Walker lifts another megaproject halt

Gov. Bill Walker has given approval for a fourth Alaska megaproject to move forward after blocking it in December.

On Wednesday, the governor’s office announced that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has been given permission to spend up to $3.6 million in previously allocated money on the Ambler Road Project.

That project, begun under the administration of Gov. Sarah Palin and continued under her successor, Sean Parnell, would build a highway extending west from the Dalton Highway through the southern foothills of the Brooks Range to the Ambler Mineral Belt, an area eyed for exploration east of Kotzebue. About 26 miles of the 200-mile highway would travel through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

In December, Walker ordered a freeze on spending for the Ambler Road and five other large-scale Alaska projects: the Juneau Access Project, Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, Knik Arm bridge in Anchorage, Pacific Spaceport complex in Kodiak, and the ASAP small-diameter gas pipeline from the North Slope to Anchorage.

The Ambler project is the fourth of the six to have the freeze lifted; Susistna-Watana, Juneau Access and Knik Arm received the go-ahead from Office of Management and Budget Director Pat Pitney on July 6.

All four have received permission to spend only as much money as is needed to get into what amounts to a parking position.

Pitney’s memo on the Ambler project was dated Oct. 15 and states that the project has been appropriated $8.1 million. AIDEA and project planners have permission to spend $3.6 million of that to start a federally required environmental impact statement. “This in fact does restart us on this Ambler project,” said AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik.

The $3.6 million isn’t enough to complete the EIS, the memo states. That would require spending the entire $8.1 million allocation and another $4.2 million to $6.8 million not yet allocated.

The project has just enough money to settle on a single route, but not enough to complete its environmental background, the design or to build it.

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