State and federal officials are holding a meeting in Petersburg today (2/21) to gather initial public input on a proposed road connection between the two communities as well as other options for improving access to and from Kake.
The Federal Highway Administration is just getting started on the environmental impact statement for the project which could accompany a power-line from Petersburg to Kake. That electric intertie is undergoing a separate E-I-S, which is being overseen by the US Forest Service. The draft study for the intertie is expected out sometime this spring.
As part of a story that we originally aired in December, Matt Lichtenstein asked the Federal Highway Administration for an update on the Kake road study, which is well behind the separate study for the intertie.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
“The Kake Access project is only in its infancy. It’s just beginning,” said Doug Hecox, spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration which is the lead agency responsible for the Kake to Petersburg Road EIS.
The Alaska Department of Transportation has already proposed several potential alternatives for road and ferry crossings between the two towns. According to Hecox, those options could change:
“The existing information that the state has put out is useful. But I wouldn’t want anybody to believe that those are the final choices because again the entire process we are about to begin on is to find the best way or the way that the public is most supportive of and it may require some modifications of the existing routes, or the recommended routes.”
The state’s preference for a route on Northern Kupreanof Island has generated controversy because it could end up putting a ferry terminal and road in the heart of the roadless city of Kupreanof, a small community of about 30 people just across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg.
Like the intertie, the road would run along Tongass National Forest land. So, Hecox says it will be the Forest Service, not Federal Highways, that will make the final decision on whether the project is approved:
“Our job is simply to make sure the environmental documentation and all the rules ad requirements have been satisfied and that some recommended route appears to be the logical choice for a variety of reasons.”
Transportation, not power is the focus for Federal Highways and Hecox says the agency has been asked to evaluate how to improve access to the very rural community of Kake.
But along with access, road supporters have promoted the project as a way of lowering the cost of constructing and maintaining a powerline.
The State legislature appropriated 40 million dollars for construction of a basic, one-lane gravel road with turnouts on the North end of Kupreanof. That did not include money for the intertie, which has been estimated to cost around the same amount. It also did not include any money for a ferry crossing from Petersburg to Kupreanof Island.
Today’s meeting runs from 3:30 to 6:30 pm in Petersburg’s Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall. Another meeting planned for Kake has been postponed. For more information, you can visit the project website.