Legislature(1993 - 1994)

02/18/1993 03:37 PM TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                 
  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                 
  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                 
  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                 
  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                 
  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                 
  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                 
  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                 
  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.                                                         

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