Borough drops plan to access North Road gravel pit

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Monday, January 12, 2015 10:29pm
  • News

While two groups have parallel plans to extend the North Road, a Kenai Peninsula Borough ordinance to fund a gravel pit access road to aid in the project construction was withdrawn from the Jan. 6 borough assembly agenda.

The ordinance, sponsored by Mayor Mike Navarre, was to appropriate $668,000 from the Land Trust Fund to access the Suneva material site, located on 140 acres of borough property off Mile 32 of the Kenai Spur Highway. The borough and the Apache Alaska Corporation have separate plans to extend the Spur Highway beyond Captain Cook State Park and the gravel pit is in close proximity to the proposed project area.

Before the ordinance could be introduced, Apache contacted the borough and notified them it hasn’t selected a material site for their project. If Apache proceeds with the purchase of material, it would assume responsibility for the road development to the gravel pit site.

At the assembly finance committee meeting Jan. 6, Navarre said there is no need to build the access road unless Apache buys gravel from the borough.

“In order to access the gravel pit, a different right-of-way needs to be built,” he said. “There is no need for us to build this road because we can’t do the (North Road) project this year and Apache has not yet made a determination. We may end up getting both roads built.”

The borough’s project is on hold while administration works with the Alaska Department of Transportation to obtain a categorical exclusion, which would bypass the cost of an environmental impact study. The borough has $5 million in federal funds earmarked for the project and cannot proceed until they receive a categorical exclusion.

Borough Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander said to get a categorical exclusion, the project needs to fit in a listed category depending on how environmentally sensitive the area is. He said after much deliberation from officials in Juneau, DOT determined the project didn’t meet the requirements and will now have to seek concurrence with the Federal Highway Administration.

Last September, the borough sent letters of support for the project from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Corps of Engineers and Kenai Watershed Forum to FHA.

“Instead of it being a slam-dunk now FHA has to sign off on it,” he said. “Now it’s a more difficult threshold to meet but DOT is still optimistic they can get it primarily for the support from local agencies.”

Apache is in the design process to construct a similar 7.5-mile road for oil and gas exploration on Tyonek owned-land. The proposed road would continue from the end of the Spur Highway to Otter Creek in the Gray Cliffs subdivision.

Apache spokesperson Lisa Parker said Apache has applied for permits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because road construction would be undertaken on wetlands, the company is working with the Corps to complete a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit.

The Corps public comment period for the project ends Jan. 21. Then the Corps has up to 120 days, or April 15, when it can deem Apache’s application complete, she said. After that time Parker said Apache is hopeful to receive a construction permit from the borough road service to begin to clear a path for the road this summer.

“There are no guarantees but we are confident we will get approved before the borough,” Parker said. “Should our project not proceed, the borough is using federal funds. Both are still going down parallel paths and if one doesn’t go as planned, the other can still go forward.”

Parker said Apache has talked with the borough about using the Suneva pit as a potential material site, but has not landed on a particular site.

“It’s an option but there are other material sites,” she said.

The borough planning commission granted a material site permit, which allows the borough to develop the site.

According to a memo from Marcus Mueller, Borough Land Management Officer, and Craig Chapman, Borough Finance Director, Apache has expressed interest in purchasing approximately 130,000 cubic yards of material for this project from the Suveva material site. The royalty rate for sand and gravel is $3.25 per cubic yard. Based on Apache’s request its total purchase from the borough would be $422,500.

The borough planned to make the access road bid process contingent on Apache securing funds for their project. The $668,000 figure is based on an engineer’s estimate, according to the memo.

Navarre said the timing of the ordinance was contingent on either entity moving forward in the North Road project. If Apache determines not to go forward this year, the borough will wait until a more opportune time to develop access to the material site.

“The building of the road and use of gravel could be used to make our match for federal funds to accomplish the North Road extension,” Navarre said. “If we do that and Apache doesn’t go forward then we start working on how we approach that project so we can get it underway next year.”

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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