The state’s development finance corporation is gathering the final data it needs to file federal permit applications for a 100-mile resource road that would open lands in the western Matanuska-Susitna Borough that now lack access to surface transportation.
The Legislature appropriated $8.5 million for the last phase of the information-gathering for a federal Section 404 wetlands permits The application will be made by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. This will trigger a federal Environmental Impact Statement for the road construction, which will involve extensive public review and hearings.
The Matanuska Borough Assembly supports the project and will consider a resolution supporting the third phase of pre-development work at the assembly’s Tuesday, Dec. 7 meeting.
Resource developers are expected to pay for most the road with parts of it made open to public use for recreation. An Australian mining company, Nova Minerals, is exploring gold deposits the Yehtna Mining District west of Wasilla.
The company has identified 6.6 million ounces of gold resources since 2018, when it began exploration, and is now at work on a year-around basis.
AIDEA’s executive director, Alan Wietzner, said that if the mine and road are built Nova Minerals would pay a fee for shipping ore. The payment would go to AIDEA, which would finance, build and own the road. In the 1980s AIDEA similarly built a road and port to support the Red Dog Mine in northwest Alaska. Red Dog is now the world’s largest zinc mine and the tolls paid for using AIDEA’s road and port are a major source of income for the state authority.
While industry is expected to use the road, “our intent is for portions of the road to be open to public access including for recreational purposes, as identified by the Mat-Su Borough,” Weitzner said.
“As currently delineated, the road is roughly 100 miles, crossing the Little Su and Susitna rivers, extending across the Skwentna River and reaching into the Yentna Mining District. Part of the work we will be concluding during this next phase is what portion will be structured (for industrial use) under a similar Red Dog model, in partnership with private industry, and which portion is best served as public infrastructure,” Wietzner said.
“This will also help to scope responsibility for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the road once it is determined feasible for construction,” he said.
Earlier phases of the project, mostly planning, were supported by several private resource owners including Nova Minerals. AIDEA has a formal relationship on the project with the Mat-Su Borough to ensure information is provided to the borough and public.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is a big fan of the idea. “This important project will make it possible to travel by road from the Point MacKenzie and Big Lake area to the millions of acres on the west side of the Susitna River, opening access to strategic minerals and known proven oil and gas reserves,” Duneavy said in a statement.
“That’s the role of government—building transportation infrastructure that leads to economic development while ensuring that those resources are developed responsibly,” the governor said.
The next steps for AIDEA will be to procure a third-party contractor to assist the authority with advancing the pre-development work, file an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and begin an environmental impact analysis through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the agency said in a statement. The authority expects it will have a contractor on board by late December, it said.
“The $8.5 million in funding from the governor and Legislature allows AIDEA to develop access for a broad spectrum of resource development along the route. The public interest is supported by structuring purpose-built common infrastructure that not being proposed to address needs of one resource or project development over another.
Earlier phases of the project, mostly planning, were supported by several private resource owners including Nova Minerals.
AIDEA is best known for its work in developing industrial infrastructure butit also helps facilitate small business and commercial development through its commercial loan participation where the authority partners with commercial banks in lending.
Anticipated benefits of the project, according to AIDEA, include jobs and business activity from extraction of minerals, agricultural production, harvest of timber resources, and access to six million acres for recreation.
The region is known to have gold, silver, copper, and strategic metals. There is 65,000 acres of lands suitable for agriculture; 701,000 acres of forest land and known oil and gas prospects.