AGDC to choose Kenai Spur Highway route by June

The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) plans to choose by June between two possible ways to move the Kenai Spur Highway around the natural gas liquefaction plant and export terminal the state-owned corporation plans to build in Nikiski.

AGDC representatives announced the plans in a Monday presentation at Nikiski’s North Peninsula Recreation Center. AGDC and the Kenai Peninsula Borough also announced other efforts to deal with the uncertainty the Spur relocation has created among Nikiski residents: AGDC is opening a new public office at the recreation center, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough officials are creating an advisory group for residents seeking a voice in AGDC’s decision making.

Since 2015, AGDC and its predecessor AK LNG have considered 26 possible reroutes for the Spur Highway, whose existing path between roughly mile 19.5 and mile 21 passes through the approximately 900-acre footprint of the planned LNG plant. In January, AGDC narrowed the possibilities to two: a “west alternative” that would branch from the existing highway around Mile 19 and pass inside Miller Loop Road, and an “east alternative” that would leave the existing highway around Mile 18 and run outside Miller Loop to the east. Both would pass roughly a quarter mile east of Bernice Lake and rejoin the existing highway at around Mile 25, crossing through heavily residential areas of Nikiski.

Choosing a path

AGDC Senior Vice President Frank Richards said the decision would be made to minimize road length and construction impacts, and to avoid passing through wetlands under the jurisdiction of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, where construction would require a National Environmental Protection Act permit that Richards said would “add time and risk to the project.”

After AGDC’s highway plans solidify in June, the timeline for bringing them to reality will depend on AGDC’s ability to attract the roughly $43 billion in capital the gasline mega-project requires. Richards said property acquisitions for the highway relocation wouldn’t begin until the project is financed.

In previous interviews, AGDC President Keith Meyer outlined a swift timeline to have the Nikiski terminal exporting LNG by 2025, requiring construction by late 2019, preceded by a financial arrangement — possibly a solidification of the tentative agreement AGDC reached in November 2017 with three Chinese state-owned entities — by late 2018.

If the project is funded by the third or fourth quarter of 2018, AGDC plans to begin designing the highway relocation soon after, acquiring the right-of-way properties in mid-2019 and starting construction by the second quarter of 2020. After building the new highway, AGDC will turn it over to the Alaska Department of Transportation, making it a state-maintained road.

The 24-foot wide road would have an eight-foot shoulder and a 100-foot right of way on either side. Of the two routes, the west alternative is shorter and impacts fewer properties, Richards said. 71 parcels would be affected by the west alternative right of way, and 119 by the east.

At Monday’s Nikiski meeting, AGDC brought two table-length maps showing the approximate centerlines of the two alternatives and the surrounding property lines. For many Nikiski residents, these were the first detailed maps they’d seen. Some discovered on Monday that AGDC’s plans could put the highway through their properties, or in some cases, through their homes.

Several Nikiski residents told AGDC representatives afterwards how they could be affected. One man said his plans to build a garage this summer are now up in the air because of the highway that may or not come through his land. A woman described her sense of deja vu: three years ago she’d sold her former property in the plant footprint to the project and moved to new land — which now may be in the highway route, possibly forcing a second move.

Richards said AGDC would be willing to negotiate for only the portions of a property affected by the road right of way, allowing landowners to keep portions of their property. Because the Spur relocation will become a state-administered road after its construction, Richards said AGDC will be required to follow U.S Federal Highway Administration standards that call for giving relocation aid to displaced owners of structures evaluated at more than $25,000.

The west alternative would require 19 such relocations, the east alternative 35.

Representation

Though Richards described Nikiski as “the community most affected” by AGDC’s natural gas export project, Nikiski residents aren’t represented on the state-owned corporation’s governor-appointed board of directors or among the Community Advisory Council, a self-organized group of advocates — including citizens and local officials from Kenai, Nenana, the North Slope Borough, Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough, Seward, Fairbanks, and other areas — who try to bring AGDC’s awareness to “gas for Alaskans, gas issues, and citizens’ concerns,” according to its chair and founding member Tim Navarre.

That may change soon. Of the Advisory Council’s 21 seats, Navarre said, 15 are presently filled, and at least one applicant from Nikiski has applied for membership, granted by a vote of the Council’s present members. The Advisory Council holds its monthly meetings at various places around the state, and may hold its April meeting in Nikiski, Navarre said. Encouraging AGDC’s board of directors to hold public meetings, such as Monday’s, is one of the group’s tasks, he said.

“We’re kind of an independent voice that can raise our voice and say ‘you need to have another meeting in Nikiski,’” Navarre said. “If they weren’t holding any, we’d go ‘what are you doing? You don’t get to do this by yourself.’”

Navarre said the Community Advisory Council may make further recommendations to AGDC when the corporation begins property acquisitions for the highway relocation.

Wayne Ogle, Nikiski’s representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, said he’s “interested in Nikiski having more representation as far as AGDC is concerned.”

Though borough administrators met with gasline project representatives at least once to give advice on the highway reroute, some Nikiski residents have said the borough government inadequately represents their interests.

“Right now it’s Binkley Street — basically, the borough speaking for Nikiski,” Ogle said, referring to the Soldotna street where the borough administrative building is located. “And we feel that’s not the best way.”

Ogle and borough administrators are creating an advisory group of up to 10 Nikiski and borough residents, appointed by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and confirmed by the assembly, to question and comment on AGDC’s work. Pierce’s chief of staff John Quick said he and Pierce are planning to introduce the advisory group idea to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly within the next month. Ogle said Pierce’s office has selected four candidates for the group so far.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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