Legislature(1993 - 1994)

03/17/1993 08:50 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
                                                                               
  SENATE BILL NO. 82                                                           
                                                                               
       An Act relating to the Dalton Highway.                                  
                                                                               
  Co-chair  Frank  directed  that  SB 82  be  brought  on  for                 
  discussion.    He  remarked  that  legislation  relating  to                 
  opening the Dalton Highway to public use had been before the                 
  legislature for a number of years.   At the present time,  a                 
  portion of  the road is  theoretically closed to  public use                 
  although the closure is not enforced.  Permits for travel on                 
  the road are issued to commercial or industrial users.                       
                                                                               
  The proposed bill would open the road to a terminus near the                 
  Arctic Ocean.  The  last few miles are  on oil company  land                 
  leased from  the state.  It is the  intent to have the Dept.                 
  of  Transportation  and  Public  Facilities  work  with  oil                 
  companies to develop an access route through those leases so                 
  that  the public can travel all the way to the Arctic Ocean.                 
  That  access  route is  not mandated,  however.   It  is the                 
  intent of  the sponsor to  have the department  exercise its                 
  authority to close the  road during months of the  year when                 
  it is determined to be unsafe due to cold weather.                           
                                                                               
  KEITH GERKEN,  Deputy Commissioner, Dept.  of Transportation                 
  and Public Facilities, came before committee, accompanied by                 
  JOHN  HORN,  Regional  Director, Northern  Region,  Dept. of                 
  Transportation  and Public Facilities.   Mr.  Gerken advised                 
  that the  department has  long supported  opening the  road.                 
  Opening  it to  the  public would  be consistent  with state                 
  policy on all  other routes.  More  practical considerations                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  relate  to   the  current  insufficient  amount  of  capital                 
  improvement on the  route.  The principal  source of capital                 
  improvement  moneys  is  federal  highway  dollars.    Those                 
  dollars cannot be  spent on a road  that is not open  to the                 
  public.   Opening  the northern  half of the  Dalton Highway                 
  will  allow  the department  an  opportunity to  use federal                 
  moneys to maintain the road so that this extremely expensive                 
  asset does not further deteriorate.                                          
                                                                               
  The department fiscal  note is zero.   Currently, commercial                 
  traffic on the road is what  determines the amount of needed                 
  maintenance.  Increased traffic projections from tourism and                 
  recreational use do not indicate  that department costs will                 
  be impacted.                                                                 
                                                                               
  For a number  of years, the  department has cooperated  with                 
  the  federal  Bureau  of   Land  Management  on  development                 
  opportunities along the  route.  The BLM is  very interested                 
  and willing to work  on a plan to make  facilities available                 
  for camping, parking, scenic viewing, etc.                                   
                                                                               
  In  response  to a  question  from Senator  Kelly concerning                 
  availability of restaurants and gas stops along the highway,                 
  Mr. Horn said fuel,  food, and lodging are available  at the                 
  Yukon River, Cold Foot, and Deadhorse.  While long distances                 
  lie between those  locations, the  distances are not  beyond                 
  the gas tank  capacity of most vehicles traveling  the road.                 
  The longest stretch is  slightly over 200 miles.   As people                 
  begin to  use the road,  and commercial need  for additional                 
  facilities arises, they  will be built.   But the need  must                 
  first be  developed.  Senator Sharp advised  that the Senate                 
  Transportation Committee was provided information indicating                 
  the BLM has a "pretty elaborate plan set up for waysides and                 
  campgrounds," once the  road is opened and  demand justifies                 
  development.                                                                 
                                                                               
  Further  discussion followed between  Senator Kelly  and Mr.                 
  Horn regarding ownership of existing fuel, food, and lodging                 
  facilities.   Mr.  Horn  noted Native  corporation,  service                 
  company,  and  private  ownership.   Mr.  Gerken  voiced his                 
  understanding that land upon which facilities are located is                 
  leased from BLM on a long-term basis.                                        
                                                                               
  Senator Rieger  raised questions concerning  state liability                 
  for   the   condition   of    the   road   and   maintenance                 
  responsibilities.    Has   an  action   based  on  lack   of                 
  maintenance ever been brought against the state?  Mr. Gerken                 
  acknowledged that  such actions  had been  brought.   Courts                 
  generally "look at that  as whether or not we're  doing what                 
  we can with what we're given."   The majority of the traffic                 
  on  the  road,  both today  and  after  it  is opened,  will                 
  continue to  be commercial.   State  liability thus  already                 
  exists.   He acknowledged that  a greater  number of  people                 
  traveling   the  road   would   increase  already   existing                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  liability.                                                                   
                                                                               
  Mr. Gerken told members that while the condition of the road                 
  is  often described  as primitive, it  is not.   The road is                 
  constructed to federal,  secondary standards.   While it  is                 
  not  paved,  it  is  quite   adequate  in  terms  of  width,                 
  alignment, and  grade.   It is  acknowledged to  have a  few                 
  problems, and access to federal dollars for the northern end                 
  would  help correct situations where grades should not be as                 
  steep  as  they  currently  are.    Unless  the  weather  is                 
  particularly  bad, speed  on the  Dalton is  not a  problem.                 
  Truckers  move quite quickly  across it.   Tourists  will as                 
  well.  The road is passable and safe.  In terms of standards                 
  and maintenance,  it is  perhaps safer  than  the Taylor  or                 
  Denali Highways.   It is built  to better standards.   State                 
  liability should thus not change significantly.                              
                                                                               
  Senator Rieger  next asked  what the opening  of the  Dalton                 
  would mean in terms of the  statewide ISTEA allocation.  Mr.                 
  Gerken explained that the Dalton falls within the definition                 
  of core roads.  It will  thus have to compete against  other                 
  major highways  for available  federal dollars.   The  state                 
  will not receive more federal highway funding because it has                 
  more road  miles on which  to spend it.   The  department is                 
  attempting  to establish  statewide  priorities in  terms of                 
  which routes need attention most.  The Dalton  would compete                 
  and  may  take funding  from other  projects.   It  will not                 
  impact borough allocations.                                                  
                                                                               
  Discussion  followed  between  Senator  Kelly  and Mr.  Horn                 
  regarding pipeline  construction camps.  Mr.  Horn explained                 
  that most  camps have  been closed  or  co-located with  the                 
  seven pump stations along the pipeline.  The department also                 
  has  six  maintenance  stations along  the  route.   Further                 
  discussion  followed  between  Senator  Kelly and  Mr.  Horn                 
  concerning airstrips along the road.                                         
                                                                               
  Senator Sharp voiced  his understanding that the  portion of                 
  the road presently closed to  the public and ineligible  for                 
  ISTEA money consists  of approximately  the last 200  miles.                 
  Mr. Horn advised that  it is technically closed at  Disaster                 
  Creek.    Further discussion  relating  to  past checkpoints                 
  followed.    Mr. Horn  acknowledged that  there had  been no                 
  checkpoint for the last two or three years.  DOTPF never had                 
  enforcement authority along the road.  Due to staffing cuts,                 
  enforcement  by   the  Alaska  State   Troopers  was   rare.                 
  Essentially, anyone wishing  to drive the road  has done so.                 
  Further,  commercial  permits  were  easily  obtained.    In                 
  addition,  recent  statutes   opened  the  area  to   mining                 
  development.                                                                 
                                                                               
  Senator Sharp next  raised a question  about use of  federal                 
  dollars versus general funds  on the portion of the  road to                 
  be opened.   Mr. Horn advised of a recent $5 million project                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  utilizing general funds.  He said it was the first funded by                 
  general funds since 1984/85.   The road requires resurfacing                 
  every three years.   The  $5 million was  used to  resurface                 
  "Deadhorse south about 53 miles."   By raising the grade and                 
  narrowing the  road to  32 feet,  that portion  of the  road                 
  "essentially  blows itself  clean  now."   In  the past,  it                 
  required two people to control drifting during the winter.                   
                                                                               
  A steady, cyclical CIP  budget for the road will  reduce the                 
  cost of everyday maintenance.   The road wears out  in three                 
  years and maintenance costs increase.   Mr. Horn attested to                 
  other points along the road where drifting is a problem.                     
                                                                               
  Mr. Horn commented that  the road to slightly north  of Cold                 
  Foot has been opened since  1983 with no major impact.   The                 
  forecasted   impact   on  the   environment   and  predicted                 
  breakdowns  and   major   accidents   have   not   occurred.                 
  Commercial facilities will locate along  the highway as need                 
  arises.   Mr. Horn  further attested  to the  fact that  the                 
  farther one ventures from civilization, the more individuals                 
  help each other.                                                             
                                                                               
  If ISTEA funds  are not  going to  be used  on the  northern                 
  portion of  the Dalton, the  department needs $100.0  a mile                 
  every  four  years to  maintain  an adequate,  safe surface.                 
  That translates to approximately $5 million in general funds                 
  annually.  Senator  Kelly asked what the state  is currently                 
  paying to maintain the northern portion  of the Dalton.  Mr.                 
  Horn answered  that prior  to the  35% cut,  last year,  the                 
  department  spent  approximately  $7 million  a  year.   The                 
  reduction  funded  maintenance at  $4.3  million.   That was                 
  inadequate, hence  the $1.2 million  supplemental and moneys                 
  from the Commissioner's  "non-routine emergency  maintenance                 
  fund."   Since  January, approximately half of the  $2.5 cut                 
  has  been  added back.    That  maintains the  road  and the                 
  facilities needed to maintain the road.  It does not include                 
  maintenance of airports along the route.                                     
                                                                               
  COL.  JOHN  MURPHY,  Director,  Division  of  Alaska   State                 
  Troopers,  Dept.   of  Public   Safety,  next   came  before                 
  committee.  Co-chair Frank voiced his understanding that the                 
  Dept. of Public Safety could  meet increased demand for fish                 
  and wildlife and  highway enforcement with the  fiscal notes                 
  that accompanied the bill.   The Co-chair then said  that he                 
  did not totally agree with the level  of the notes and asked                 
  that Col. Murphy speak to increases in the trooper component                 
  as well as fish and wildlife protection.                                     
                                                                               
  Col. Murphy explained  that funding anticipates a  full-time                 
  trooper at seven mile and two  troopers out of Fairbanks who                 
  would travel the highway  on a rotation basis.   Troopers do                 
  not currently conduct roving patrols along the Dalton, but a                 
  supervisor travels  it.  DOTPF  has housing  at seven  mile.                 
  The department proposes to locate a trooper there as well.                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
  End, SFC-93, #39, Side 2                                                     
  Begin, SFC-93, #41, Side 1                                                   
                                                                               
  With increased traffic, there would be need for a trooper on                 
  the road  twelve to  sixteen hours  a day.   The  department                 
  bases  projected  need  on past  haul  road  experience with                 
  commercial traffic.                                                          
                                                                               
  Addressing fish  and wildlife protection needs,  Col. Murphy                 
  advised that an  enforcement officer would be  based at Cold                 
  Foot.   Enforcement personnel is currently  stationed there,                 
  but the department  intended to  transfer the position  this                 
  summer.    If  the road  is  opened,  resulting  hunting and                 
  fishing pressure  would necessitate that the position remain                 
  at Cold Foot.   A part-time position would also be needed to                 
  assist  during the  busy  season, and  an aircraft  would be                 
  required for search and rescue  as problem situations arise.                 
  First-year  costs  are  substantial  due  to  need  for  the                 
  aircraft and other equipment (a snow machine and four, four-                 
  wheel-drive vehicles).   Costs drop dramatically the  second                 
  year.                                                                        
                                                                               
  Senator Sharp acknowledged the  department's desire to reach                 
  adequate staffing levels but questioned whether SB 82 is the                 
  proper vehicle.  He voiced his understanding that  there are                 
  presently no troopers on the road,  and he took exception to                 
  the proposal to  go from "zero to  four on the back  of this                 
  legislation."  The Senator questioned whether opening of the                 
  road would  initially  justify other  than merely  emergency                 
  response capability.   The Department of  Fish and Game  has                 
  indicated no greater incidence of violation along the Dalton                 
  than other locations statewide.   In fact there may  be less                 
  because of the five-mile no hunting  zones on either side of                 
  the road which permit only bow and arrow hunting.    Senator                 
  Sharp suggested that the Department  of Public Safety fiscal                 
  note reflects "overkill" in terms of funding.                                
                                                                               
  Senator  Kelly  asked  if  other   highways  in  Alaska  are                 
  unpatrolled.  Col. Murphy answered  that the Elliott Highway                 
  and  some others  are  not  patrolled  "very  often."    The                 
  troopers do  not patrol those  areas unless called,  or they                 
  patrol on a monthly cycle.                                                   
                                                                               
  Col.  Murphy  added  that the  department  is  not enforcing                 
  commercial vehicle  regulations along  the Dalton.   If  the                 
  road is open to the public  and more private vehicles travel                 
  the Dalton, the department will need to work with commercial                 
  truckers to ensure that  their equipment is safe.   There is                 
  much more  commercial traffic along the Dalton than on other                 
  infrequently patrolled highways.  Senator Kelly and Co-chair                 
  Frank suggested that costs of commercial vehicle inspections                 
  should be covered by program receipts.  Senator  Sharp noted                 
  that the weigh station at Fox  would be the proper site  for                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  vehicle safety inspections.                                                  
                                                                               
  Co-chair  Frank  acknowledged  questions raised  by  Senator                 
  Lincoln when the  bill was before the  Senate Transportation                 
  Committee.    He  then directed  attention  to  a  packet of                 
  information (March 17, 1993, memo from Rick Solie to Senator                 
  Frank--copy  on  file  in  the  SFC  SB 82  file)  which  he                 
  explained attempts to address those concerns.                                
                                                                               
  RICK  SOLIE,  aide  to  Senator   Frank,  next  came  before                 
  committee.  He enumerated seven  questions raised by Senator                 
  Lincoln, read the brief response set  forth in the memo, and                 
  pointed to attached, in-depth backup materials.                              
                                                                               
  Speaking to the oil industry's  position on proposed opening                 
  of the road, Mr. Solie voiced his understanding that as long                 
  as the road is not opened "all the way to the Arctic Ocean,"                 
  the position would  be neutral.   Language in the bill  thus                 
  speaks to "a terminus  near the Arctic Ocean."   Oil company                 
  concern  is  that  opening  the  road  to  the  Ocean  might                 
  jeopardize operational security.                                             
                                                                               
  Mr. Solie next directed attention to correspondence from the                 
  Department of  Fish and  Game (included  within the  packet)                 
  indicating  that  there  might  be  a positive  impact  from                 
  opening the road "because some of the caribou herds actually                 
  could use a little  more harvest."  It does not appear there                 
  will be an adverse effect from additional hunting.                           
                                                                               
  EDGAR BLATCHFORD, Commissioner,  Department of Community and                 
  Regional Affairs,  next came before committee.   Co-chairman                 
  Frank voiced  his understanding that  the administration has                 
  requested the Commissioner to negotiate a settlement between                 
  the state and the Tanana Chiefs.  The Commissioner explained                 
  that, last summer,  several commissioners  and the  Attorney                 
  General met  with representatives  of TCC and  the law  firm                 
  representing the North Slope Borough.  The state immediately                 
  dismissed  the   suggested  creation   of  a   federal/state                 
  commission to regulate ingress and  egress out of the  North                 
  Slope.    Since  that  time,   there  have  been  additional                 
  discussions with  TCC.    The  Commissioner  explained  that                 
  travel   by   both  himself   and  TCC   representatives  to                 
  Washington, D.C., was unproductive  because senior officials                 
  at the Bureau of Land Management were reluctant to recommend                 
  any action until  after the November election.   Exchange of                 
  correspondence with  TCC is ongoing.   The  administration's                 
  understanding  is  that TCC  will  try  to bring  the  other                 
  parties together, i.e. the North Slope Borough and villages,                 
  etc.  Discussion  continued regarding "how  we can open  the                 
  road."                                                                       
                                                                               
  DARSIE BECK,  Alaska Environmental  Lobby, next  came before                 
  committee.   He voiced  opposition to  opening the  highway,                 
  advising that it would substantially impact wildlife and the                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  fragile  eco-system  of  areas north  of  the  Brooks Range.                 
  Hunting  pressures, both legal  and illegal,  will increase,                 
  and off-road vehicular traffic will  lead to serious erosion                 
  problems.   There will also be increasing  pressure to build                 
  new roads  from the  Dalton to  distant points.   The  BLM's                 
  ambitious  recreation plan  will attract  additional traffic                 
  and magnify negative impacts on the land and wildlife.                       
                                                                               
  Mr. Beck noted the following intent accompanying legislation                 
  that authorized construction of the Dalton Highway:                          
                                                                               
       It  is  the  sense  of  the legislature  that  the                      
       construction  of  the  highway   will  not  impair                      
       natural wilderness  adjacent to the  highway, will                      
       not   unreasonably   interfere   with  subsistence                      
       hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering.                              
                                                                               
  Opening  of the  highway to  public  use would  violate that                 
  intent.                                                                      
                                                                               
  Senator Rieger pointed  to earlier-mentioned  correspondence                 
  from  the  Department  of  Fish  and  Game  indicating  that                 
  increased harvest  would be good for the long-term health of                 
  the caribou herd.  Mr. Beck disputed that statement.                         
                                                                               
  Co-chairman Frank noted  references by Mr. Beck  to off-road                 
  vehicular  traffic.      The   Senator   then   voiced   his                 
  understanding that the  Dalton has  protection against  off-                 
  road use that no other state  highway enjoys.  The five-mile                 
  corridor  on  each  side  of the  highway  is  a substantial                 
  prohibition.   Co-chairman  Frank voiced  surprise that  the                 
  environmental community would object to "just letting people                 
  drive a road."                                                               
                                                                               
  Mr.  Beck  acknowledged statutory  protection.    He further                 
  noted testimony that there is little or no enforcement along                 
  the road.   Co-chairman  Frank concurred  that there may  be                 
  violations by a small number of  people.  He voiced concern,                 
  however, that  the stand  taken by  the environmental  lobby                 
  indicates that "The people of Alaska won't follow the  law."                 
  Law  enforcement  in  any  state  is  based  upon  voluntary                 
  compliance.    Mr.  Beck  advised   that  the  environmental                 
  community is  opposed to  the opening  on the  philosophical                 
  grounds that it "increases use of resources that  don't need                 
  to be used right now."  The environmental community supports                 
  tourism, but this appears to be irresponsible tourism.                       
                                                                               
  Senator   Rieger   posed   questions   regarding   penalties                 
  associated  with  off-road violations  along  the  road, and                 
  suggested that if the  fine is minor, perhaps the  committee                 
  should  review the penalties.   Co-chairman  Frank predicted                 
  that most tourists  would either fly  to the North Slope  or                 
  travel via tour  bus.  He then voiced his belief that it was                 
  philosophically wrong for a portion of the road, constructed                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  with public funds, to be closed to the public.                               
                                                                               
  CHIP  THOMA  next  came before  committee,  advising  of his                 
  experience  as a  truck  driver  on  the Dalton  during  the                 
  winters  of  1974, 75,  and 76.    He said  that wind-driven                 
  drifts and white-out  conditions prevail  much of the  time.                 
  He voiced his belief  that the state should not  have agreed                 
  to take over  the road.   It should have remained  a private                 
  road maintained by the oil companies.                                        
                                                                               
  Mr. Thoma suggested  that opening the road  would provide "a                 
  whole new moose  highway" for residents  of Fairbanks.    He                 
  then  voiced support  for efforts by  the Tanana  Chiefs and                 
  North Slope Borough to close the road.                                       
                                                                               
  Co-chairman Frank took exception to Mr. Thoma's comment that                 
  the purpose of  the proposed bill  was to expand access  for                 
  Fairbanks moose  hunters.   He reiterated  that the  impetus                 
  behind the bill  is philosophical:  A public road maintained                 
  with public dollars should  be opened to the public.   There                 
  is no policy reason for keeping  the Dalton closed "half way                 
  up."   No overriding  problems have  arisen as  a result  of                 
  having it open as  far as it is  now.  The people  of Alaska                 
  should have the  opportunity to drive  a road that was  paid                 
  for and is  maintained by public  dollars.  The  Co-chairman                 
  further  advised that he had worked  with the departments of                 
  Fish and Game, Public Safety,  and Transportation and Public                 
  Facilities to address legitimate concerns.                                   
                                                                               
  Mr. Thoma  said  that he  was  not asserting  that  ulterior                 
  motives were involved.   He stressed that from October  1 to                 
  April 1 there is no tourist value to the road.  The issue of                 
  concern is  safety.   The reason  for the  road is  to drive                 
  goods  and  services  to  Prudhoe  Bay.   Co-chairman  Frank                 
  commented that departments charged with responsibility along                 
  the road do not feel there is undue risk.  The  commissioner                 
  has authority to  close the road  if conditions are  unsafe.                 
  The Department  of Transportation and Public  Facilities has                 
  general authority  to  open and  close any  road for  safety                 
  reasons.                                                                     
                                                                               
  KEITH   GERKEN,   Deputy    Commissioner,   Department    of                 
  Transportation  and  Public  Facilities,  again came  before                 
  committee.    He concurred  in  comments by  the Co-chairman                 
  regarding authority to open and close roads.  The department                 
  has, in the  past, issued notices  of closure to  commercial                 
  traffic.   In  response  to a  question  from Senator  Kelly                 
  regarding  inclusion  of specific  language  to that  effect                 
  within the bill, Co-chairman Frank said that he did not want                 
  the legislature to  arbitrarily set  times for openings  and                 
  closing.                                                                     
                                                                               
  The Co-chairman  announced  that  SB  82 would  be  HELD  in                 
  committee  for   additional  work   on  the   fiscal  notes.                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  Discussion followed  between Senator  Kelly and  Co-chairman                 
  Frank regarding the approach  to fiscal note work.   The Co-                 
  chairman advised that he did not intend to zero the notes.                   
                                                                               

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