Petersburg’s borough assembly is asking the Federal Highway Administration to combine its study of transportation improvements for the nearby community of Kake with a separate study on a possible powerline connection between the two Southeast towns. The assembly Monday approved comments for the scoping phase of the federal Kake Access project.

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Kake Access, a federal environmental review, is looking at potential road and ferry improvements for the village of over 500 people on Kupreanof Island. Those could include a road along northern Kupreanof that has been proposed and already funded by the state. Borough assembly members this summer drafted comments on the draft purpose and need statement for that study, which identifies a need for better transportation. The draft comments noted the transportation study should be combined with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency’s study of an electrical transmission line running between Kake and Petersburg.

Comments also cited little economic benefit for Petersburg with a road connection. However, Mayor Mark Jensen took issue with that characterization. “So I’d just like for us to consider what we say in this letter,” Jensen said. “I’m in favor of development. This road would be an access road for the powerline and a seasonal transportation road, is the way I’d understand it, 18 foot wide gravel road.”

Jensen thought fish landed in Kake could be flown out of Petersburg on Alaska Airlines and could benefit businesses locally. He agreed with draft comments that it would only be a summertime access road, not maintained in the winter.

Assembly member Cindy Lagoudakis thought it was important to combine review of the powerline and road, if the road was meant to be a powerline access road. “There is no mention in the purpose and need statement of anything about the power line and therein lies the rub,” Lagoudakis said. “If that’s the purpose of the project, they need to say that’s what the purpose of the project is and analyze it accordingly and that’s the law. And that’s the problem primarily with this project. I don’t think having a maintenance road for the power line is a bad idea. It’s just not what is being proposed here.” Lagoudakis also wanted to include comments supporting the existing ferry service to Petersburg and opposing any new roads in the roadless city of Kupreanof.

Assembly member Nancy Strand liked the comments as drafted. The draft comments noted few benefits from a road and ferry connection, and cited concern over loss of ferry service with new roads constructed. “I’m not in favor of advocating for any route,” Strand said. “What if the road to Prowlewy Point, instead of bringing an opportunity to bring fish from Kake to Petersburg presents an opportunity or becomes the requirement that fish goes from Petersburg to Kake to be shipped out.”

Prowlewy Point, on Kupreanof Island, across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg, is a possible site for road and shuttle ferry connections to Kake.

The assembly agreed to amend the comments and remove references to no local economic benefits and need for a longer overall review. Comments asking to combine the road and powerline project, improve existing ferry service and keep the city of Kupreanof roadless remained in. The vote was 6-1 with Strand voting no.

Monday was the deadline to get comments in for Federal Highways draft purpose and need document. It will be finalized by the federal agency and then used to develop transportation alternatives and eventually an environmental impact statement. A draft of that document which would identify possible road alternatives is not due out until the spring of 2015.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jensen also reported he’d be attending a meeting of an intertie steering committee in Kake on Wednesday. Jensen said that group would be talking about the environmental impact statement for the powerline and possible impacts of the road project. “It’s kind of a schedule of events here for the powerline that could be going out and looking for hiring a design engineer in 2014. Anyway we’ll have more of an update after we have that meeting Wednesday.”

The Southeast Alaska Power Agency is conducting that separate review of the powerline connection.