A section of logging road on Kupreanof Island. Sections of already constructed road would be connected with new ones to create a road spanning the island. (Courtesy photo | Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

A section of logging road on Kupreanof Island. Sections of already constructed road would be connected with new ones to create a road spanning the island. (Courtesy photo | Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

Opinion:$40M road to nowhere is a waste of money

“It is a colossal and shameful waste of public funds.”

  • Rebecca Knight
  • Monday, April 13, 2020 10:21am
  • Opinion

As a matter of serious fiscal responsibility, Gov. Mike Dunleavy should immediately repeal the unexpended balance of the 2012 capital budget appropriation for the Kake Access road project through whatever means possible.

It is a colossal and shameful waste of public funds, which could be better spent on far more important and legitimate needs during Alaska’s already uncertain times, which are now combined with the dire impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Throwing $40 million toward a risky and incomplete venture like this one-lane, 13.5-mile, gravel road is a fiscally irresponsible boondoggle.

Some are under the mistaken impression that the road would connect the two island communities of Kake and Petersburg. In fact, it would require many more miles of construction for that purpose. It would be literally a “road-to-nowhere” ending at 12-Mile Creek, 12 miles from Petersburg, in the wilderness and windswept north shore of Kupreanof Island, in Southeast Alaska. It would serve no one. To simply complete the connection to Petersburg would require pie-in-the-sky additional appropriations.

This project, has been debated, studied and abandoned numerous times. The latest version includes no ferry or ferry terminal to connect to Petersburg. It is a “want’ by a very few individuals — especially some in high power and influence — but a not a true “need.” The project would serve no commerce if built as planned. Quite simply, it does not pencil out, given the demographics and highly speculative benefits.

As defined by the Alaska Department of Transportation, the so-called “Purpose and Need” for the project is for subsistence and recreation, which instead, really appears to be a project in desperate need of a justification. With hundreds of miles of unmaintained logging roads already existing on Kupreanof Island, there is no need for yet more road miles to serve such a clearly, disingenuous rationale for the road. Absent from the DOT project description is any analysis of exactly how this road would benefit subsistence and recreation uses.

In fact, as evidenced by the recent petition from Kake, the overwhelming majority of their residents do not support the road in large part due to the potential negative impacts to their traditional and customary subsistence uses. The City of Kupreanof is also unanimous in their disapproval for the road, and there is strong opposition to it by many Petersburg residents. A $40 million project should serve more than speculative benefits and be desired by those who are most impacted, which clearly is not the case in this situation. Those funds could go a long way toward alleviating the dire consequences of the pandemic on our citizens, instead of to an out-of-state contractor who appears poised to non-competitively secure the lucrative contract. Just who does this outlandish expenditure serve?

By some undisclosed stroke of political maneuvering, the latest Kake Access project version was excluded from any in-depth examination. Moreover, it is the poster-child for project “piece-mealing” and is an irresponsible and underhanded method to get projects underway with no real planning or realistic budgeting.

Alaskans expect that their elected representatives will act in the fiscal interest of their constituents. For this reason and the above rationale, Dunleavy should ensure that funding for this road project is repealed and returned to the General Fund for truly legitimate needs during our painful and uncertain times.

• Rebecca Knight is a 45-year resident of Petersburg and nearby Kupreanof Island and commercial fishes with her family. Since the early ’90s, she has participated in every public planning process for a Kake-Petersburg Road.Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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