The first trees fell Monday to make way for a 2.5-mile road to carry Kensington gold mine workers to a proposed Cascade Point dock.
The state is picking up the tab for the approximate $810,000 gravel utility road, which will extend from the northern end of Juneau's road system to Cascade Point, a knob of shoreline within Berners Bay.
Juneau's urban Native corporation, Goldbelt Corp., plans to use the road and build a dock to carry mine workers across Berners Bay by catamaran to a second dock operated by Coeur Alaska at Slate Creek Cove.
The workers will then take a bus to the mine site.
The mine and the two docks have not yet received final federal permits.
Goldbelt Corp. also maintains long-term plans for commercial development on its adjacent land at Echo Cove.
Calls to Goldbelt Corp. on Monday were referred to Juneau assembly member Randy Wanamaker, who is working as an adviser to Goldbelt and to Coeur Alaska, developer of the Kensington Mine.
Wanamaker said the road is the only activity underway at Cascade Point at this time and that it has been subjected to an "excess of caution" to protect wildlife, in particular, mountain goats.
But Juneau environmentalists disagreed.
"This is the first leg of the industrialization of Berners Bay," said Kat Hall, a mining coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
"This is another example of public money being spent for private interests," Hall said.
Channel Construction of Juneau is building the road, and its road crew started work at about 8 a.m. Monday. The crew will work Monday-to-Saturday shifts, according to company business development director Marcy Johnson.
It will take about a month for the crew to clear out the trees and woody brush in the road's right-of-way, Johnson said.
"We haven't really decided when road construction will start," Johnson said.
The company's road-building contract with the state originally ended in September but it has been extended until January, she said.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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