Alaska might not get enough money to build a road from Juneau to Skagway soon, but U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said it could get enough to lay pavement out to the proposed Kensington mine.
"I've met with the governor and we're reviewing and we do think that there is a possibility of actually getting more money in the highway bill directly for this project," Young, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
He said the House version of the federal transportation bill would spend about $275 billion on transportation infrastructure, while the Senate would spend about $318 billion. Young said there still is an opportunity to get more money for Alaska when the two proposals go to a conference committee where lawmakers work out the differences.
"If I can do it, we are going to get part of it probably in conference so we can at least extend the road to Berners Bay out to the Kensington mine and try to get that section started just a little bit at a time," Young said.
The House proposal earmarks $525 million for Alaska projects, he said. Most would go to the Knik Arm Bridge in Anchorage and the Gravina Island Bridge in Ketchikan.
Extending the road to the Kensington mine, about 13 miles north of Echo Cove, would cost about $60 million, Young said.
He said building a road to Skagway would help prevent attempts to move the capital and provide better access to the rest of the state in case of an emergency.
"Let's say that there was a long-term terrorist attack or a war itself," he said. "You are very much isolated here, so you need some capability to get out of here."
Young said the state also use tailings from the mine to help provide a foundation for the road.
Pat Kemp, DOT Southeast preconstruction engineer, said the state proposed researching such a use of rock waste to build the road in the late 1990s but the project was never funded.
He said that although the east Lynn Canal route is the state's preferred alternative for the Juneau Access project, there are still a number of options for improving access in the upper part of the Panhandle, including improved ferry service or a road to Haines.
If the east Lynn Canal road is chosen as the final alternative, Kemp said DOT likely will consider using tailings to build the road.
"We are going to issue the draft (environmental impact statement) this summer," Kemp said. "Based on public and agency comments we will make the decision."
Rick Richins, a project manager for Kensington mine developer Coeur Alaska, said there was discussion in the '90s of using the tailings, but that there has been no recent talk of such a plan.
"I'm not sure if it's even legal," Richins said.
He said Coeur hopes to have an environmental impact statement for the mine completed by July.
Jeff Ottesen, statewide planning chief for DOT, said the Juneau Access project could be done "segment by segment."
"I think we believe there's enough imperative to build that road," he said. "Once the project has a bit of momentum it would be easier to draw the earmarks."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.