The Alaska Department of Transportation is partnering with Juneau's urban Native corporation to build a 3-mile road to the proposed ferry terminal for the Kensington Gold Mine.
"This is not your typical road contract," Ken Collison, DOT's project manager, told Juneau road builders at a pre-bid meeting on Tuesday.
It's unusual because:
Transportation officials are allocating up to $1 million for the project in state industrial road money that usually aids oil projects up North.
Instead of administering the project and maintaining the road, state officials are yielding those duties to Goldbelt, the Native corporation that owns the land at Cascade Point. The road would travel along a U.S. Forest Service corridor beginning at the northern end of the Juneau road system.
The road wouldn't be regulated like state road projects. For example, the contractor would be able to change the road's path to avoid rock knobs or other obstacles - as long as effects to wetlands or eagle trees were avoided, state officials said.
Bids for the project must be submitted by Nov. 18 and the contract could be awarded a few weeks later, Kemp said.
At least 10 firms attended the pre-bid meeting.
"There hasn't been much new construction in Juneau - that's the most unusual thing about it," said Andrew Campbell, of Arete Construction. "That's why there's so much interest."
"It sounds like DOT is taking the environmental considerations seriously - no more wetlands are to be filled in. However, it's still questionable that this is the best investment of public funds," said Emily Ferry, a grassroots organizer for the Southeast Alaska Environmental Council.
Ferry noted that DOT's support for the Cascade Point project contrasts with its refusal to continue studying a second Gastineau Channel road bridge connecting Douglas Island and Juneau earlier this year.
Kemp said that funding for the proposed bridge wasn't earmarked in the federal transportation budget.
Ferry responded, "That hasn't slowed DOT in proposing and studying a huge array of other projects whose costs are astronomical." She listed the proposed $314 million Bradfield Road as one example.
Goldbelt's David Goade said he worked on getting federal approval for the road for three years. "It was a very grueling process," he said.
Goldbelt plans to run a shuttle bus along the road to the ferry terminal to transport Kensington workers across Berners Bay. It's unclear now whether the road would be open for public use.
Goade hopes the road will be constructed this winter and the Cascade Point dock - still being reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers - in the summer.
The Kensington mine also is awaiting state and federal approval.
The Cascade Point road corridor could be used by the state as a portion of its proposed $285 million road from Juneau to Skagway, DOT officials said. Goade said that's OK with him.
"The road, once it's in, I've got what I want," he said.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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