House bill would create task force for new roads

Possible new routes include one up Taku River to Atlin

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2001

Juneau's two representatives split their votes on a roads bill that passed the state House on Wednesday.

The measure would set up a task force to look at developing gravel roads in mostly remote regions of the state, including the Taku River area near Juneau.

The bill's sponsor, Anchorage Republican Rep. Norm Rokeberg, said he sees roads as a key ingredient in economic development, and the state has built few new ones in the last 30 years.

"Let's build some roads and open up this country," Rokeberg said.

House Bill 8 creates an 11-member task force that will look at 25 specific road projects and any others it feels merit review. The projects include a road to Cordova, a road to Nome, a road from Wasilla to Bethel, a road from Ruby to McGrath and a road from Juneau to Atlin, British Columbia.

Juneau Democrat Rep. Beth Kerttula voted against the bill because she opposes the road from Juneau to Atlin, which is about 90 miles north of Juneau and linked by road to the Alaska Highway. The sticking point for her is the road would be built near the Taku River - a major salmon producer in Canada and Alaska.

Kerttula said she was approached by local fishermen who were concerned building a road there would hurt Alaska in future salmon treaty negotiations with Canada.

"I think it puts us in a poor light for the future that we'll talk about a road that will impact a trans-boundary river that's important to our fish," Kerttula said.

Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson supported the bill. He said the Knowles administration's decision against actively pursuing a road up Lynn Canal puts extra emphasis on examining a Taku route.

Task force members are to include representatives from unions, the trucking, contracting and mining industries, the engineering profession, the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, the Resource Development Council for Alaska and the Alaska Federation of Natives. Two legislators also will serve on the task force.

Opponents of the bill argued the state doesn't have the money to maintain the roads it has now, and that some of the projects on the list lack public support in the affected communities.

"It's silly to go out and buy a Corvette when you can't pay for the Pinto's repairs," said Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat.

The bill passed 30-6. It must still go through the Senate.

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