Tanana chiefs endorse building road to Nome

Posted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Alaskans who want to build a road to Nome will face one less obstacle if they can ever come up with money for the massive project.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference board of directors, representing some villages in the path of a proposed road, have approved a resolution supporting the project.

A road to Nome has been considered for more than a century. At its annual convention, the board approved a resolution to support the road that it adamantly opposed a decade ago.

Tough economic times and high fuel costs changed that position.

"The transportation costs make everything more expensive around the community. A road system would alleviate that somewhat," board President Jerry Isaac said.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin announced support for the road in 2009. Money to build it remains a major obstacle.

A planning report by DOWL HKM, an engineering firm, concluded the best route would connect the Elliott Highway near Manley Hot Springs to the Nome-Council Highway. The price tag was $2.3 billion to $2.7 billion.

The Department of Transportation spent $1 million to study possible corridors to Nome. Gov. Sean Parnell's proposed capital budget includes another $1 million for 2010.

The road is planned in phases, from one resource-rich area to the next. The state is considering three routes.

The engineering firm suggested a 500-mile road through Tanana. The board has endorsed a highway to Tanana.

Tanana Chiefs Conference is a consortium of 42 Interior tribal communities. Villages on the Seward Peninsula are not part of the group.

The engineers' report estimated savings for transportation costs to six villages within 20 miles of the route if extension roads were created. Four were Tanana Chiefs Conference communities: Tanana, Ruby, Galena and Koyukuk.

A road would cut the annual cost of transporting fuel, cargo and mail by about $491,000 to Tanana, $618,000 to Ruby, $1.9 million to Galena and $258,000 to Koyukuk, according to the report.

Richard Burnham of Kaltag sees benefits to a road but said there are more pressing matters. The state's top priority should be an improved energy policy, especially one that brings natural gas to local markets, he said.

If the state builds a road, he said, it should connect developers to promising mining claims, such as the proposed road from Ruby to McGrath.

David Maillelle of Grayling opposes the road because it would create easy access for hunters and anglers.

"There will be too many people coming out here," he said.

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