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Arctic Native leaders in Juneau to tell lawmakers they oppose Umiat Road



Delegation of Arctic Native leaders in Juneau to tell lawmakers they oppose proposed road

Juneau, Alaska – A delegation of Arctic Native Alaskans today begin three days of meetings with state lawmakers to express their opposition to the state’s proposal to build a 100-mile road from the Dalton Highway, the main route to the Prudhoe Bay oil and gas fields, to the remote arctic site of Umiat at the edge of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).

“Caribou herds are very sensitive to the kind of industrial energy development, noise and access the Umiat road would bring,” said Lillian Gordon Stone, Naqsragmiut Tribal Council secretary and resident of Anaktuvuk Pass, the only remaining settlement of the Nunamiut people. “We are caribou people. We want to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to carry on our traditional, subsistence way of life. Without the caribou we lose our identity as a people.”

The North Slope Borough Fish and Game Management Committee (which has delegates from eight villages in the North Slope), the Naqsragmiut Tribal Council, the municipal government of Anaktuvuk Pass, the Native Village of Nuiqsut, the Native Village of Point Lay and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope have all passed resolutions opposing construction of the Umiat road because they are concerned the road would alter the migration routes of caribou herds and threaten plants and animals native to the area.

“With air traffic and other disturbances we already have to go further and further, up to 50 miles from the village, and sometimes we still don’t find caribou,” said Andrew Hopson, subsistence hunter, member of the Naqsragmiut Tribal Council (Anaktuvuk Pass) and member of the BLM NPR-A Subsistence Advisory Panel. “We don’t have good alternatives. We’re limited in terms of jobs, money and the rising cost of living.”

The Umiat road would slice through 100 miles of subsistence hunting and fishing grounds and cross the, Anaktuvuk, Chandler, Itkillik and Colville River, the largest on Alaska’s North Slope. It would traverse subsistence resource areas important for caribou, moose, brown bear, furbearers, fish (including Arctic grayling, Arctic char, Dolly Varden, Arctic cisco, lake trout and whitefish) and plants used by local communities. 

State to pay for access to unproven energy reserves

Proposed as part of Governor Parnell’s Road to Resources program, the cost to the state to build a road and bridges to Umiat would range from $400-$600 million dollars. The stated purpose of the road is to extend access from the Dalton Highway to the highly-speculative oil and gas deposits in the state’s North Slope Foothills lease area and Umiat within the NPR-A.

The road wouldn’t connect to any planned oil and gas developments and according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) “(o)il and gas volumes discovered to date are currently best described as ‘sub-commercial resources’ whose development potential is contingent upon constantly fluctuating economic factors and connection to markets.”

Fix it First: Transportation dollars better spent on backlog of existing infrastructure needs

Critics of the road to Umiat and Roads to Resources program say state transportation dollars would be better spent on the backlog of maintenance needs for existing roads and bridges, which according to a conservative estimate in the most recent (2008) state transportation plan is more than $50 million per year and growing. (See Alaska Long-Range Transportation Policy Plan page 70)

So far, the state has already spent $25 million on the Umiat Road - $17 million to study the feasibility of building the road and $8 million for the Environmental Impact Statement process.  Governor Parnell proposes to spend another $10 million in this year’s budget.

Throwing good money after bad

The State of Alaska has a well-established track record of failing to complete major transportation projects. According to a February 2010 report by the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, the state has already spent more than $133 million on five road and bridge projects and allocated another $205 million more. None of the projects have been completed and the state has no plans in place for the nearly $5 billion needed to complete them. Among those projects are the proposed Juneau Access Road and Gravina Bridge.

A scoping report for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the Umiat Road, officially called the Foothills West Transportation Access Project was published recently.

The name “North Slope” refers to the Arctic lands sloping towards the Arctic Ocean to the north of the Brooks Mountain Range in northern Alaska. The North Slope is divided geographically into the foothills province to the south and the better known coastal plain province to the north.

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