Group Forms to Support West Susitna Access Project
Supporters of a road that would access mining areas west of the Susitna River are forming a nonprofit to counter a campaign against it.
Friends of West Susitna is a coalition of local business owners, current and former policy makers, outdoor recreation advocates, and others advocating for the West Susitna Access Project (WSAP).
“It’s time for this expansive part of the state to become accessible to more Alaskans,” says Cindi Herman, owner of Skwentna Roadhouse and chair of the organization’s board. “The West Susitna Access Project represents the first step in allowing more Alaskans to access this part of the Mat-Su Borough for good jobs, year-round recreation, settlement, and economic development. Greater access will help unlock Alaska’s abundant resources for more than just a handful of people, and that’s a good thing.”
The Anchorage Daily News reports that Skwentna Roadhouse is likely the only property in the remote area that would have a close connection to the roadway. By itself, the business contracted a lobbyist to push for the project, and now Herman has a formal alliance with other board members:
- Rod Arno, Palmer: Former executive director for the Alaska Outdoor Council
- Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Wasilla: Wasilla City Council member, former state legislator
- Calvin Flanigan, Skwentna: Assistant hunting guide, bear guard, trapper
- John Lamborn, Wasilla: Former exploration geologist, Mat-Su business owner
- Christy Moore, Anchorage: Former dog musher, organizer of Iditaski and Iditasport events, remote property owner at Derf Lake, near Mount Susitna
- Mark Tope, Wasilla: Mat-Su business owner, trucker, pilot
The group formed recently to participate in the public process led by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA). “We look forward to lending a supportive voice in the weeks and months ahead,” Herman says. “It is critical all sides are represented and heard as regulators analyze the options for the road.”
In June, a group called the Alaska Range Alliance launched an advertising campaign against WSAP, accusing AIDEA of developing the project in secret. The owner of Rainy Pass Lodge, Steve Perrins, appears in the ads, warning that the road would spoil a remote area for the benefit of mining companies.
The opposition group also includes Anders Gustafson as executive director and Scott Kendall as legal counsel, both of whom have also been involved in opposing development of the Pebble Mine. As with that project, opponents are a coalition of environmentalists and lodge owners.
The Alaska Range Alliance has so far put $200,000 toward the anti-WSAP campaign.
Friends of West Susitna is starting its efforts with social media and face-to-face outreach.
“The majority of comments we hear from people or read online support the road,” says Herman. “Most Mat-Su residents, and, indeed, most Alaskans, seem to support the project if it can be done responsibly. To us, doing it right means Alaskans will enjoy some form of managed or scheduled access and that AIDEA will establish a toll system so that industry users of the road will help fund its construction and maintenance like they successfully did for Red Dog Mine’s transportation corridor. And, of course, Alaskans expect to be first in line for the jobs that result from building this road.”
Opening the Area
The intended route is approximately 100 miles long, with at least eleven major bridges, from the west end of the Ayrshire Road snowmachine trailhead to the confluence of Portage Creek and the Skwentna River, near Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range. Currently the only road access west of the Little Susitna River is a winter-only trail to the Fish Creek Natural Resource Management Unit.
“Currently, the area is accessible to only a small group of people with access to private planes or watercraft,” says Arno. “Friends of West Susitna leadership believes a road moves us closer to opening the area for outdoor recreation like fishing, hunting, snowmachine travel, hiking, and boating without unduly impacting the environment. It could also create economic opportunities tied to tourism, resource development, agriculture, and timber harvest.”
AIDEA has partnered with Australian firm Nova Minerals to develop the Estelle gold project, a mining district with a collection of 346 claims that the WSAP would connect to the highway system.
“We live here year-round and are confident the community supports this road project, especially when they learn more about the benefits it offers to the entire Mat-Su Borough and beyond,” says Sullivan-Leonard. “This area should be accessible to more residents, not fewer. The road project will make that possible, which means progress for people who live here.”
AIDEA submitted a permit application to the US Army Corps of Engineers in June. The Corps is evaluating the permit application.