Sheridan Peak on northeast Kupreanof Island near Petersburg (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The state Department of Transportation has restarted work on a road project on northern Kupreanof Island between Kake and Petersburg.

In 2016 Governor Walker put this and seven other state-funded road projects on hold until the state came up with a balanced budget fiscal plan.

DOT spokesperson Aurah Landau says the state agency has resumed its work on that road to provide access to recreation and forest resources.

“Now previous versions of this road had different potential road corridors, different end points and at this point the plan is to extend the road from Kake to salt water on the east side of the island of Kupreanof Island and to maximize the use of existing roads as much as possible,” Landau said. “And so work this summer is focused on figuring out the project scope, the road location and the preferred end point.”

Last week, geotechnical staff with the state agency flew along potential routes in helicopters fitted with video cameras to record the condition of existing forest roads. Laudau says they will also walk proposed alignments for potential new road connecting segments. More than 40 miles of land and water separate the communities of Kake and Petersburg although logging roads stretch across part of the island.

In 2012 Sitka Republican state senator Bert Stedman secured a 40 million dollar appropriation for the Kake road project. He’s been a supporter of building a one-lane gravel road along the northern end of Kupreanof Island, linking some existing forest roads and using a road corridor approved by Congress across National Forest land.

The legislative appropriation prompted a study for improving transportation access to Kake, done by state planners and the Federal Highway Administration. At one time planners were considering a road and ferry connection between the communities but nixed the idea because it would add significantly to DOT’s annual maintenance and operating expenses. Around 39 million dollars remains for the project. Past reports have said that amount was 37 million dollars.

So why spend that money to build a road when the state is facing a 1.6 billion dollar budget deficit?

“That’s a good question,” Landau said. “That’s a good question. Since the legislature appropriated the funding, DOT is charged with carrying out legislative direction and using the funding for another purpose would require legislative action.”

The Kake road has its share of critics in Petersburg and the nearby city of Kupreanof. Joe Sebastian opposes the project.

“The Kake road is the type of project you get when the state no longer listens to the people of the area,” Sebastian said. “If the Department of Transportation, Senator Stedman and the governor truly cared about Southeast Alaska’s transportation they would fully fund the ferry system and not even bother to build a project that no one really needs.”

The DOT this spring is also advertising for companies that could map and photograph the route for engineering a single lane unpaved road on the north end of the island. That work is expected to cost up to a million dollars. Road construction is not expected until 2021. Public outreach could happen in the fall or winter once the information on the route is gathered.

A separate project for an electrical power transmission line across the island has been studied and authorized but shelved without any funding for construction.