ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski hopes to build a $285 million road along the remote Alaska Peninsula with money raised from selling state oil leases near Bristol Bay.
Murkowski said the 182-mile gravel road would connect the deepwater port of Chignik to the town of King Salmon, 284 nearly roadless miles southwest of Anchorage.
"We feel there is enough revenue potential from the sale of the (oil) leases to more than pay for the road," Murkowski said Thursday.
The road and the oil leases would be in the same region near Bristol Bay, famous for its salmon runs.
The state lease sale has not been arranged, but oil and gas officials hope that it will happen in 2005. Mark Myers, director of the state Oil and Gas Division, said there is a potential for hundreds of millions of barrels of oil to be found in the area, in addition to natural gas.
Myers would not speculate on whether sales could produce the $285 million for the governor's proposed road.
Murkowski officials said the road would benefit the Bristol Bay region. It would connect several villages and let them share services. It would provide villages with road access to the ice-free port of Chignik, making it cheaper and easier to get goods in and out of the area.
Also, oil and gas companies would be more interested in future development in the Bristol Bay area if there were road access to their leases, Murkowski administration officials said.
"It is strictly a continuation of our belief that, by putting access into these areas, as long as you have the support of the people, and you can marry it with interest in exploring for oil and gas, you have a package here that is competitive," Murkowski said.
Department of Transportation officials said no route has been set but the road would be built from Chignik to Port Heiden, which has a good airport that other villages could use. It would then run to South Naknek and Naknek.
The Alaska Peninsula road is one of several remote road ideas for which the Legislature, at the governor's request, allocated $10 million this past session to explore.
Some legislators have not favored building more roads. The state has a recurring budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars. Last month, Murkowski made budget cuts of more than $100 million and says he plans to cut more than twice that much next year.
Bristol Bay-area officials reached Thursday were surprised to hear of the governor's remarks about building the entire route from Chignik to King Salmon rather than just parts. But they said it would be a big benefit to a region struggling because of the downturn in the fishing industry.
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