Petersburg’s borough assembly may vote early next month on a resolution that opposes spending 40 million dollars for a state road project on Kupreanof Island through part of the Petersburg borough. Many are sounding off on both sides for and against the Kake access project, which could see construction starting this summer.
The state this winter has been surveying the proposed route for a one lane gravel road that would connect the nearby community of Kake to a proposed boat ramp 12 miles north of Petersburg. It would use the remaining funds from a 2012 state appropriation of 40 million dollars, secured by Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman.
The work on the project prompted Petersburg’s assembly to send a letter to legislators seeking more information. They’re now looking at a resolution that opposes the project.
Local resident David Beebe praised the wording of the resolution and supported its passage.
“The description and title of the project, Kake Petersburg road has been a historic and deliberate put down by the Alaska Department of Transportation of the existence and concerns of the city of Kupreanof and its choice since inception to be a designated roadless community by ordinance,” Beebe told the assembly.
The city of Kupreanof, near the eastern end of the proposed road, has opposed the project, most recenty in a February 17 letter to state legislators. In it mayor Butch Anderson questions impacts on Kupreanof and asks for plans to maintain the road. That letter also asks to re-appropriate the 40 million dollars for a different use.
The Petersburg borough’s draft resolution asks for the 40 million dollars to be used for the Alaska Marine Highway instead. Assembly member Chelsea Tremblay pointed out the sidelined ferry vessels that have left Southeast residents stranded.
“It doesn’t feel good as a neighbor to be taking this kind of money from the state of Alaska because it is the state of Alaska’s money when we have neighbors around the state who are dealing with empty food shelves and struggling to travel with medical issues,” Tremblay said.
On another side of the issue, assembly member Brandi Marohl said she has heard support for the road project in this community but still has questions.
“There has been other pros that I’ve heard of, whether that’s really true or not,” Marohl said. “I mean I was just in Norway and they have a road system that interties everything with small, little ferries and this might be the direction that we’re going to end up going, I don’t know.”
Meanwhile Senator Stedman responded to the borough with a February 14th letter and said the road money cannot be used for ferries. Stedman writes that even if the money could be re-appropriated to the marine highway it wouldn’t guarantee more ferry service. The senator argues a road will make it easier to build an electrical intertie and provide emergency response to the neighboring community. Stedman also thinks the road will be maintained and the state can upgrade it to a chip-sealed surface using federal funding.
Assembly member Jeff Meucci did not think Stedman’s reasoning made sense.
“I mean if Senator Stedman is planning to build roads that connect all the islands with bridges, I’d like to know about it so I can support him on it,” Meucci said. “I think that’d be really cool. I think it’d be great. What he’s talking about here, maintenance costs are not insurmountable and can be contracted out to local businesses as well as the legislature can provide for maintenance costs with new funding or transfer funds. So how come we can’t do that with the ferry system? I mean he’s talking about new funding. I told several people over the last couple weeks, if you’d have told me we’d have a pot shop in town and no ferries running for a month, I’d say you’re nuts. But to not have any ferries running in Southeast Alaska is just beyond me.”
Assembly member Taylor Norheim, who couldn’t attend the meeting, submitted a comment that the project does not impact Petersburg and did not think the assembly should be commenting on it. Petersburg’s mayor Mark Jensen has been a supporter of the road. Both he and assembly member Bob Lynn were not at the meeting but were attending an Alaska Municipal League conference in Juneau.
On Talk of Alaska earlier in the day, Governor Mike Dunleavy was asked about prioritizing the Kake road project over repairing state ferries. The Alaska Marine Highway has only one ferry operating, from Ketchikan and to Metlakatla, until at least March 1st.
“These ships are offline on my watch,” Dunleavy said. “I know there’s a number of people that believe that I’m pulling them off for some other nefarious reason but the fact of the matter is, these ships have operating issues right now. You have a road, you maintain the road, you have free access, you have folks moving back and forth and so I think the idea is to provide reliable transportation to people, Alaskans in Southeast and on our coast.”
Petersburg’s assembly agreed to put a resolution on the Kake road up for a vote at their March 2nd meeting.