Legislature(1993 - 1994)
02/18/1993 03:37 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE February 18, 1993 3:37 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Senator Bert Sharp, Chairman Senator Randy Phillips, Vice Chairman Senator Tim Kelly Senator Georgianna Lincoln MEMBERS ABSENT Senator Jay Kerttula COMMITTEE CALENDAR Presentation - Northern Sea Route by David Orr. SENATE BILL NO. 82 "An Act relating to the Dalton Highway." PREVIOUS SENATE COMMITTEE ACTION SB 82 - See Transportation minutes dated 2/16/93. WITNESS REGISTER David Orr, Department of Commerce and Economic Development 3601 `C' Street Anchorage, Alaska 99503-5986 POSITION STATEMENT: Northern Sea Route Presentation. John Horn, Regional Director Northern Region Department of Transportation and Public Facilities 2301 Peger Road Fairbanks, Alaska 99709-5316 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of SB 82. ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 93-7, SIDE A Number 001 CHAIRMAN SHARP called the Senate Transportation Committee to order at 3:37 p.m. He announced that the committee would be having a presentation on the Northern Sea Route by David Orr. DAVID ORR, Department of Commerce and Economic Development, said he was before the committee last year asking for support in the way of a capital appropriation so that the state could proceed with the northern route transportation and in looking at domestic application of some of the technology. He explained he would provide the committee a briefing of what has been accomplished to date. Mr. Orr said the northern sea route is a project that has been in development for almost 600 years. It wasn't until the 20th century when real thoughts about a northern sea route began to take hold because of the evolution of technology. Around 1918 the Soviets began to build a Trans- Siberian Railroad in an effort to hold their empire together better. At the same time most of the supplies that came to Russia during World War II came in through the ice free port at Murmansk. By the end of World War II, 1945, almost the entire Russian Soviet merchant marine had been sunk. In 1950, China became communist and had a different philosophy than communist Russia. In the late 1950s, Russia began work on constructing the Trans-Baikal Railroad to try to move the rail line further north from China in case China ever decided to invade. Mr. Orr said in 1960, decisions were made to begin major investments in opening the Northern Sea Routes. Mr. Orr explained another country that was very important to Russia was Finland. Because of Finland and its relationship to Baltic Sea, Finland acquired the technology to begin building most of the new ships that are now a part of the Northern Sea Route operation. It has taken almost 30 years to get to where they are right now. Mr. Orr continued to show the committee members a map of how supplies flow down river systems from the Arctic Ocean or up the river systems to the Arctic Sea Ports where larger marine vessels pick them up and take them to their intended places. He explained that currently from Murmansk past Dikson, the Northern Sea Route is open twelve months a year. Mr. Orr explained there is about 6,000 miles of Arctic coastline and showed committee members a map and outlining different sea routes. In 1977, Russia sent the first surface ship to the North Pole and back at an average speed of 11.5 knots. In 1978, Russia pioneered a great circle route through the Arctic Ocean down to the Bering Strait at a 11 knot average with one of their early nuclear powered ice breakers. Currently, they routinely go back and forth to the North Pole at speeds in excess of 15 knots carrying up to 90 passengers at a time. He explained that an advantage as to why Alaska should consider the route is there would be a two-thirds distance savings from Dutch Harbor on the Northern Sea Route versus going through the Panama Canal. Mr. Orr continued to show the committee pictures of different ice breakers, Russian ports, and discussed how some whales were rescued off of Point Barrow. Mr. Orr said currently they are working very hard on some container shipments at Dutch Harbor. He said he feels Alaska has more than met the minimums for guaranteed shipments out of the state for 1993. It will take many countries, ports, and businesses, to put a lot of ships and cargos through the Northern Sea Route to bring the cost down for everybody concerned. The department is now working as far south as Coos Bay, Oregon, trying to encourage ports and business to consider the route as an alternate shipping route on a seasonal basis. The reason is the department is looking for other opportunities as any particular Alaskan company may not have 20 thousand tons of product to move at any one time. The goal is to get cargo moving in both directions to help drive down the cost. He continued to show the committee pictures of ice breakers and discussed the costs and possibilities of ice breaking ferries. Mr. Orr said the Corps of Engineers has been asked to begin feasibility studies on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers to see whether it is socially and economically responsible to extend the navigation season on both of the river systems. Opening the route could begin to make an enormous difference for the people on the rivers in their transportation and the ability to have better access commercially to domestic and international markets. We currently spend many thousands of dollars every year repairing the damage from ice breakup on each of the river systems. By extending the navigation season on segments of the river will relieve the pressure on the major river systems. He noted that the entire Yukon River system and everything north of the Yukon River is also exempt from the Jones Act. Mr. Orr continued to show the committee pictures and discuss the benefits of opening the Northern Sea Route. CHAIRMAN SHARP thanked Mr. Orr for his presentation. Number 540 The last order of business was SB 82 (OPENING THE DALTON HIGHWAY). JOHN HORN, Regional Director, Northern Region, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT/PF), said the Dalton Highway begins at mile post 73 on the Elliott Highway, 83 miles north of Fairbanks. It ends 414 miles later at Prudhoe Bay. The road is an all weather gravel road built by Alyeska. It was turned over to the State of Alaska October 15, 1978. Originally, the road was closed to all the commercial traffic north of the Yukon River, approximately mile post 56. In 1980, it was opened to the general public to Dietrich during June, July, and August by legislative action. In 1983, that segment was opened year around by administrative process. Before that process took place, there was doom predicted by a lot of people that said the regular 4-wheel vehicles were not compatible with 18- wheel trucks. Mr. Horn explained that the department used to have a year around check point at Dietrich but budget reductions eliminated it in 1987. At first it was reduced to a seasonal operation, and over the last couple of years it hasn't existed at all. The road is currently a public use highway. Most of the impact of officially opening the road to the public has already taken place. There is no enforcement to the requirement to have a permit. According to the statute that controls the road, almost anyone who wants to have a permit can have a permit. All you must have is a business license and a commercially registered vehicle or a rental vehicle and a permit will be issued to you. He said you would have to have a business license that would cause you to be up there for a reason such as to take photographs to sell. If you are a miner, you could get a permit to stake a claim. Mr. Horn explained that over the last couple of years the department has been working to open the entire length of the Dalton Highway year around. That process has been bogged down in the courts. A restraining order has been issued and a law suit has been filed by the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) and the North Slope Borough. The department appealed suit and it has gone to the Supreme Court. He said he believes it will be heard in March. The department isn't sure what the outcome will be, but they are fairly certain that it will be positive for opening the road. Mr. said the department's position is that the Dalton Highway should not be any different from any other road in the State of Alaska that is maintained by the DOT/PF. He referred to the fiscal note showing a zero impact and said the reason is that the department already maintains the road for heavy truck traffic. TAPE 93-7, SIDE B Number 001 The last time the issue came up, there was a small fiscal note which was for wayside facilities. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently in the process of constructing the facilities. The department's position is that the full road should be opened to the general public. CHAIRMAN SHARP said over the last several years there has been extensive rebuilding on the south end of the road. He said he believes that last year there was a $5 million project financed by general funds in the closed area. He asked if it could have qualified for federal money if the road was open. Mr. Horn said it could have qualified for federal funds. He explained that a majority of the road North of Dietrich to Prudhoe Bay is in need of reshaping and resurfacing. There are two bridges in that closed section that need replacement. There is a major problem at the Kuparuk River as the multi-plate culvert structures may have to be replaced with a bridge which will cost approximately $750 thousand. He added that all the work would have to be done with general fund monies unless the road is opened to public where it would become eligible for federal highway funds. Number 033 SENATOR LINCOLN explained that the Dalton Highway is in her district and she uses it extensively. She indicated concern about the trash along both sides of the highway. Senator Lincoln said she believes that the road is a very unsafe road with large trucks using it. She questioned the zero fiscal note where five safety officers would be needed if the road were opened. She requested a written report as to what the status is of the ongoing litigation. BLM is also undertaking a resource management plan for the utility corridor area. She asked where the state is in that process and what the recommendations are regarding the subsistence uses in that area. Senator Lincoln asked what the industry's position is regarding opening the highway. She said she believes that Commissioner Batchford has taken the lead on discussions between the state, TCC, and the North Slope Borough and questioned what the status is and indicated that a possible briefing by the commissioner would be in order. Senator Lincoln said she would like to see a report from the Department of Fish and Game regarding the subsistence use that would be impacted by the increased public access. CHAIRMAN SHARP noted that at the last hearing on the bill the Department of Fish and Game discussed the impact on subsistence users. They indicated that there was confusion caused by the federal government saying that subsistence hunting could happen in a five mile corridor contrary to state law. The road is supposed to be closed five miles on each side except to bow hunters. The Department of Public Safety anticipates three people would be needed. They currently don't have anyone, he concluded. SENATOR KELLY said he has never supported opening the highway and believes that it is dangerous. He asked if the highway would be opened on a seasonal basis or year around. Chairman Sharp said he would ask the prime sponsor. SENATOR RANDY PHILLIPS asked Mr. Horn if he knows how the Dempster Highway compares to the Dalton Highway. Mr. Horn indicated he hasn't been on the Dempster Highway. SENATOR LINCOLN asked if the committee could get a briefing from Commissioner Blatchford. Chairman Sharp said if the commissioner is available on Tuesday, he would arrange for him to give a briefing. Senator Lincoln asked if the committee would be hearing from BLM on the resource management plan for the utility corridor. Chairman Sharp said he wasn't planning on it as he has attended several hearings in Fairbanks and it seems they have everything in order regarding the corridors and proposed sites for wayside facilities. Senator Lincoln asked if the chairman would request a report on the impact of subsistence use from the Department of Fish and Game. Chairman Sharp indicated he would if it was available. MR. HORN said when the southern half of the road was first opened, the prediction was that the tundra would be littered with auto parts from those vehicles that tangled with 4- wheelers. That has not happened. He referred to the fiscal note and said he never meant to imply that other agency's fiscal notes would be the same as DOT/PF. There being no further testimony, Chairman Sharp indicated the bill would be heard again at the next meeting. Chairman Sharp adjourned the Senate Transportation Committee meeting at 4:45 p.m.