Goldbelt ready to develop Cascade Point

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A plan to develop Cascade Point into a transport facility for mine workers is ready to go ahead, if it doesn't get tangled up in the Juneau Access Project.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Goldbelt, Inc. plans to seek bids this fall to build a dock and breakwater and dredge the new port on its property at the southern edge of Berners Bay. The property is accessed by an unpaved "pioneer" road that's slated for improvements.

But the state Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, at the request of the U.S. Forest Service, has asked for a court opinion on whether improving the road to Goldbelt's property is part of the larger and controversial Juneau Access Project.

Goldbelt is Juneau's urban Native corporation. The access project is a 50.8-mile road that would connect Alaska's capital city to a new ferry terminal at the Katzehin River south of Skagway. It has been one of Juneau's most controversial ideas for decades, and has been blocked by a federal court injunction the state is appealing.

The state wants to widen the smaller, 2.9-mile road to 26 feet from 20 feet and pave it. Goldbelt would then transport workers in buses from a Mendenhall Valley parking lot to the docks. The road also would be open for public access.

The improvements are not part of the larger access project, according to Goldbelt CEO Gary Droubay and the state department of transportation. Others disagree, and a court has been asked to weigh in on the matter.

"In my opinion, this is directly related," Juneau Sierra Club President Mark Rorick said.

The federal district court will make the determination.

On Monday, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration agreed that clarification is needed.

"While the project is subject to separate and independent authorization and funding from the Juneau access project, the land subject to the additional requested right-of-way lies in the same transportation corridor as the Juneau Access Project and granting the request has the potential to alter the status quo with respect to the Juneau Access Project," federal attorneys wrote.

The state plans to go out for construction bids on the Cascade Point project this fall if the department can clear up the issue as well as several other permit-related questions, Southeast Region Director Gary Davis said.

Gov. Sean Parnell in December announced $5 million for the Cascade Point project. The money comes from a 2005 general fund appropriation that was held over, Davis said.

In the meantime, Goldbelt is moving ahead with its contract to transport mine workers for Coeur Alaska.

The mine started production this month, and Goldbelt the 65-foot catamaran put Majestic Fjord in to service to move miners to the north end of Berners Bay, where they disembark and take a bus to the mine camp.

Goldbelt officials declined to say what its contract with the mine company is worth. The dock project will cost $3 million to $5 million, Droubay said.

Using Cascade Point instead of the current location at Yankee Cove would shorten the half-hour ride by about half and eliminate a sometimes-rough trip into Lynn Canal, but conservation groups have said they are concerned about development in Berners Bay.

Goldbelt owns about 1,400 acres at Cascade Point. The immediate plan is to build a single-use facility but future plans are to modify the dock as a barge landing facility to export rock, sand and gravel, Droubay said.

"If the Juneau Access Project gets out of litigation and underway, this could be a good staging location, temporary housing and a storage facility," Droubay said.

Channel Construction already has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a barging operation.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at kim.marquis@juneauempire.com or 523-2279.



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