This image from the Alaska Department of Transportation shows proposed new road segments in red and existing roads in black.

Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday voted down a resolution against the state’s remote road project on Kupreanof Island near Kake. A majority of Petersburg’s assembly voiced support for the road construction and several wondered why it’s not being designed with an endpoint closer to this community.

The proposed resolution was a statement against the remote road project and it asked the state to use the 40 million dollars appropriated for construction for some other use. The assembly has had public testimony and letters for and against the project.

Local resident Becky Knight supported the resolution.

“I request that you request that the 40 million dollars be returned to the general fund and be used for legitimate genuine needs not wants for Alaskans,” Knight told the assembly. “A no vote by the majority would send the message that there is no fiscal crisis in our state or borough and it would be irresponsible and foolish.”

The 40 million dollars in state funding was secured by Senator Bert Stedman in 2012. And he wrote to the borough that the money could not be used to fund the ferry system.

Another local resident Ambre Burrell spoke for Petersburg construction company Rock N’ Road and opposed the resolution.

“I can tell you first hand the amount of money that comes into communities while the roads are being built as well as the infrastructure and importance of having them after they’re built,” Burrell said. “I think the reality is that if we vote this down we’re never going to see that money again. It’s going to go somewhere else. We’re 10 percent, Southeast Alaska is 10 percent of the entire state of Alaska.”

The road project could begin construction as soon as this year. The plans call for connecting some existing forest roads on northern Kupreanof Island to a proposed new boat ramp at Twelve-Mile Creek, 12 miles north of Petersburg.

The state Department of Transportation’s stated reason for building the road is to increase access to subsistence resources and recreation on national forest land on that part of the island. But the road link has also been pushed for as a way for to provide emergency medical and law enforcement service to Kake or a future corridor for an electrical transmission line.

Assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor brought the resolution up for a vote. He did not believe many of the arguments for building the new road segments. He thought it was worth asking the state to use the money on ferries anyway.

“The ferry crisis right now is a true humanitarian crisis,” Stanton Gregor said. “If you read this as a news story, I’m not being dramatic to illustrate a point, if you read this as a news story, like, Wow this third world country is having problems getting food on their shelves. This is the United States in the year 2020 and it’s real. This is a true humanitarian crisis where people are having a hard time getting basic food. That seems unfathomable to me. And to be discussing as DOT states a subsistence and recreational road with department of transportation money, it boggles my mind that it’s the way things are right now.”

Stanton Gregor thought it was reasonable for the borough to ask the state to re-examine its priorities with most state ferries sidelined.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci wondered why the road could not be extended to end just across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg.

“If we’ve got 40 million dollars to spend on a 13 mile road extension, why not ask the senator for a couple more million dollars and run that road right to Kupreanof?” Meucci asked. “That way we can use it. We won’t be able to use it out there. There’s only going to be a few people that get a chance to use it at 12 mile.”

Meucci wanted to write to Stedman asking for more money to bring its end closer to Petersburg. Others on the assembly also liked that idea. Assembly member Brandi Marohl agreed that Mitkof Highway running south of Petersburg could also be considered a road to nowhere, a reference to multiple Alaskan road projects in remote parts of the state.

“That (Mitkof Highway) was put in back in the 60s with the idea that we’re going to bridge across Dry Straits, run a road up to Alcan, it never happened but I’m glad that we have it now,” Marohl said. “I use that facility all the time. We are able to shuttle our kids back and forth to Craig and to Wrangell, especially with the Alaska Marine Highway System in place like that and you know what if it gives Kake the same opportunity then great.”

The vote was 5-2 against the resolution with only Stanton Gregor and assembly member Chelsea Tremblay supporting it.

Meanwhile the state DOT is working to line up a construction company that could start road building this year. Greg Lockwood, the DOT’s group chief for the project, says the agency is in negotiations with contracting company Kiewit. That’s the same company that did a major reconstruction and expansion of Petersburg’s airport runway about a decade ago.

For the Kake road project the DOT is using an approach called construction manager-general contractor. Under that method, the state agency designs the project but also hires a construction company as a consultant during the design phase, to offer input on how the project could be built. The state and that company then negotiate a price for the construction contract.

Lockwood writes in an email that this approach allows for some of the construction work to be phased in, with some construction starting even before all of the project is designed.