AIDEA Accepts State Funds for West Susitna Access Project

Nov 1, 2021 | Government, Mining, News, Transportation

Looking west over Susitna watershed.

Looking west over the Susitna watershed.

Stefan Hinman | Mat-Su Borough

The board of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) has accepted $8.5 million set aside in the state operating budget, HB 69, for the West Susitna Access Road (WSAR).

Funds will be directed into AIDEA’s economic development account, under AS 44.88.172, for the advancement of predevelopment work for the proposed access  corridor in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The intended route is approximately 100 miles long 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.

“Access is a common barrier to developing Alaska’s resources,” says AIDEA board Chair Dana Pruhs. “With this funding from the legislature to advance predevelopment work, AIDEA can help facilitate access for the Mat-Su Borough to develop purpose-built infrastructure.”

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Funds will be used to carry out the third and final phase of a feasibility analysis for initial predevelopment work. The scope includes competitive procurement of a third-party contractor to assist AIDEA with the application process with the US Army Corps of Engineers and begin an environmental impact analysis through the National Environmental Protection Act. AIDEA anticipates to have a third-party under contract in late December 2021 to assist in this process.

Governor Mike Dunleavy initially included WSAR funding in a proposed bond package, but instead he requested the $8.5 million from the legislature as part of the 2021 budget.

“This important project makes it possible to travel by road from the Point MacKenzie/Big Lake area to the millions of acres on the west side of the Susitna River, opening access to strategic minerals and known proven oil and gas reserves,” Dunleavy says. “That’s the role of government—building transportation infrastructure that leads to economic development while ensuring that those resources are developed responsibly.”

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 WSAR would connect to the highway system. (Not to be confused with Novagold, the Canadian company developing the Donlin gold prospect near the Kuskokwim River.)

“Investing in access projects creates the infrastructure necessary to bring natural resources to market, which creates good-paying jobs for Alaskan families and generates local tax revenue that helps fund social and emergency services,” said AIDEA Executive Director Alan Weitzner.

Currently the only road access west of the Little Susitna River is a winter-only trail to the Fish Creek Natural Resource Management Unit. The WSAR would be a year-round road with at least eleven major bridges, in some sections paralleling the historic Iditarod Trail.

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