The West Susitna Industrial Access Road
Total money spent: $200,000
MSB put in $50,000
AIDEA put in $50,000
The Phase I MOU was signed to agreement in 2019. The resulting study was led by HDR Alaska, an engineering consulting firm. The initial goals for this study were to research the feasibility of two proposed routes of the road.During Phase I of the Understanding, the Borough and AIDEA paid $50 thousand for feasibility studies, with an additional $100 thousand from Nova Minerals and completed preliminary scoping.
This reconnaissance study was completed in early 2020.
During Phase I and up to the public hearing at the passing of Phase II, there was a near-total lack of opportunity for public input on a road that would impact salmon-bearing streams, cultural heritage sites, remote homesteads, lodges and regional tourism. Stakeholders who advocated for the scheduling of a public hearing and who made their voices heard at it are testament to the level of community concern and need for ongoing consultation.
Total Money Spent: $410,000
MSB put in 0
AIDEA put in $155,000 (plus up to 7,500 in contingency funding)
AKO put in $155,000 (plus up to 7,500 in contingency funding)
Both AIDEA and AKO would look for $100,000 in additional funding from 3rd parties
Thanks to the advocacy efforts of the Susitna River Coalition, critical amendments were made to Phase II, including adding provisions for the best practices for the management of fish, wildlife and bird habitat and cultural and historical sites. In June of 2020, Australia-based Nova Minerals, AIDEA (Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state owned corporation) and the Mat-Su Borough signed Phase 2 of a Memorandum of Understanding towards a mining road west of the Susitna River. Phase II explored two different routes for the road It was concluded that the route for the proposed road would begin near Port MacKenzie. It would cross the Susitna River and travel through the Yentna watershed and end at Nova Minerals Estelle Gold Claim near Rainy Pass.
Despite the one of the intended goals of the Phase II MOU according to AIDE being public outreach, an extremely inadequate job was performed. Opportunities for public comment and outreach were limitied and poorly executed. Mailers were sent out, many not even making it to the proper people. Addition an open house was held in December 2020. Supporters of the road were predominantly industry associated while the majority of people that live, recreate, and own land in the area showed strong opposition.
In early 2021, the results of the Phase II MOU were presented the Mat SU borough assembly to fierce opposition to the Mayor, Vern Halter.
The Phase III was signed into agreement following a December 21, 2021 Mat Su Borough Assembly meeting, despite overwhelming public opposition to the project and a general lack of understanding from the Borough Assembly.
Phase III was first brought before the Mat Su Borough Assembly on December 7, 2021 where overwhelming opposition was heard against the project. After much discussion and inadequate answers by AIDEA representatives to very good questions from the Borough Assembly, the vote was shelved for the next Assembly meeting.
On December 21, 2021, the Mat Su Borough Assembly heard public comments about the project and once again were asked to vote. In total, 35 constituents testified in opposition and 9, predominantly industry associated individuals, testified in favor. The Borough voted to approve Phase III of predevelopment event despite opposition. Through this vote, The Borough Assembly authorized AIDEA to continue with the project with no requirements for public outreach or independent cost-benefit analysis, and on the timeline AIDEA has proposed. In addition, they added on a burden to the Borough to conduct public outreach (though they only have $50k) to be done concurrently with AIDEA work.
Prior to this, the previous Borough Mayor (Vern Halter), Assembly, and the Fish and Wildlife Commission expressed great concerns about the West Susitna Access Road.
State money has been allocated for AIDEA use on this project. After being removed from the Governor's Bond package because it wasn't constitutional, Governor Dunleavy added $8.5 million for the West Su Road Project to the Budget during the 2021 legislative session. This $8.5 million was accepted by AIDEA for Phase III of the West Susitna Access road in October of 2021. With this large amount of money acquired, many basic questions remained completely or unsatisfactorily answered. For example, timber is one of the new resources that AIDEA says the road will allow access to. In their October meeting, it was indicated that an estimated 5 jobs would be created by access to this resources.
The Approval of Phase III also mandated that the Mat-Su Borough use $50,000 of previously allocated money for outreach on the project.