The state is planning to build a $40 million dollar road across the northern part of Kupreanof Island in Southeast Alaska. It would connect the village of Kake, which has about 500 residents, to a proposed boat ramp 12 miles north of Petersburg. Kake’s mayor sent a letter to the state supporting the project but most in the community do not want the road.
Inside Kake’s Senior Center, residents gathered recently to discuss the road. The state’s proposal is for a one-lane gravel road running from east to west along the northern part of the island. Many residents at the meeting thought it was a bad idea. They spoke about it affecting subsistence resources and about money needed for the ferry system instead.
“You’re opinions matter, your voice matters, and it should’ve been heard first,” said Marla Howard, Kake City Council Member. She was helping run the meeting and recorded it on video.
Howard says she and other council members have been left in the dark about a letter that Kake Mayor, Lloyd Davis, wrote to the State of Alaska supporting the road project. Howard did not learn about the letter until she was in Juneau at the end of February for the Alaska Municipal League meeting.
Howard says that Davis wrote the letter without getting council approval.
Kake Mayor, Lloyd Davis, didn’t respond to several interview requests. In his letter dated January 28 to the Governor, Davis wrote, “I would like to show our support for the Kake Access Road.”
The mayor’s letter has been brought up in Petersburg assembly meetings and from Senator Bert Stedman’s office as an indicator of local support for the road.
Howard says the letter did not represent Kake residents so she decided to take a vote herself, going door to door to see how people really felt.
“The people here are 80 percent against this road,” she said.
Well, 79 percent to be exact were against the road. 274 people in total voted. About 10 percent supported the road and about 11 percent were undecided or didn’t vote.
(274 total votes: 217 against the road, 27 for the road, 24 undecided, 6 didn’t vote)
Howard has gone public with the results.
“It’s obvious, it’s totally obvious that Kake is against this road,” said Howard.
Joel Jackson is the President of Kake’s tribal council, the Organized Village of Kake. He says residents are against the road for many reasons but mainly because it’s not needed.
“It’s a road to nowhere, really,” Jackson said.
The project’s sponsor is Senator Stedman of Sitka who says the road would improve recreation, subsistence, and Emergency Medical Services.
Jackson, who has worked with the village’s EMS, disagrees.
“There’s no way we would even attempt to transport a patient over those roads,” Jackson said. “It’s just too far and the roads are rough.”
Kake has one ambulance and Jackson says it’s not made for out of town travel.
Howard says the road would be impassable part of the year. Kupreanof has hundreds of miles of logging roads and she says they become covered in snow and ice.
“We can’t even get to the dump, which is maybe a mile and a half out of town,” Howard said. “It’s pure ice. We can’t even get to the dump in the winter.”
Opening up traditional lands to subsistence isn’t welcomed either. Jackson says a lot of residents are worried about outsiders coming in.
“We do have a lot people that come to hunt on our island,” Jackson said. “And with this road, it would just give easier access.”
Howard says residents are the caretakers of the island. In turn, they rely on the land for food— seaweed, fish, deer, berries and clams.
“We’re pretty attached to our land and our animals,” she said. “It’s spiritual to us.”
Kake’s mayor’s letter requested that the state modify the road to extend it closer to Petersburg. Petersburg’s borough assembly has not been able to come to an official stance on the project. The small city of Kupreanof is against the road altogether.
UPDATE: Marla Howard turned in her resignation to Kake City Council this week. She says the situation with the politics of the road has been stressful.