Legislature(2001 - 2002)

02/08/2001 01:35 PM Senate TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Number 287                                                                                                                      
         SB 3-APPROP: ENV. ASSESS. NORTHERN DENALI ACCESS                                                                   
SENATOR  GENE THERRIAULT,  sponsor  of  SB 3,  said after  SB 3  was                                                            
introduced,  it  was  determined   that  the  first  calculation  of                                                            
$264,000  was incorrect.   CSSB  3 has  the correct  calculation  of                                                            
$330,000.    Senator Therriault  became  interested  in  this  issue                                                            
because his senate district  includes the Denali Borough and because                                                            
of Senator  Frank Murkowski's  interest in  this project.   Language                                                            
has been  included in federal  legislation  authorizing money  for a                                                            
northern  access study,  money the  state has failed  to match.  The                                                            
Department of Transportation  and Public Facilities (DOTPF) has this                                                            
project on its Statewide  Transportation Improvement Program (STIP),                                                            
but due to environmental  opposition, the administration  has put it                                                            
out as a possible  project for the  future - past Governor  Knowles'                                                            
term in office.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR  THERRIAULT   said  that   Senator  Murkowski  thought   the                                                            
legislature should step  forward and make the match so the study can                                                            
get underway.                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  said  the  money is  intended  to  match  $1.32                                                            
million  allocated  as  high  priority  funds in  the  federal  1998                                                            
Transportation  Equity  Act  for the  21st  Century (TEA-21).    The                                                            
legislature  has previously passed  two resolutions.  The  first was                                                            
HJR 28 in 1994,  which supported increased access  near Mt. McKinley                                                            
through an  establishment of a visitor  activity area at  Kantishna.                                                            
The  second  resolution   was  SJR  25  in  1997,  which   supported                                                            
enhancement  of visitor  access through  development  of a  northern                                                            
railroad  route.  Despite  those resolutions  and the fact  that the                                                            
federal  government categorized  the  project in  its high  priority                                                            
funds,  STIP does  not include  matching  money until  2002.   While                                                            
recognizing  that  appropriations  are  usually  considered  in  the                                                            
context of  a larger spending  measure, SB  3 was introduced  at the                                                            
urging of  Senator Murkowski  to generate  discussion and  highlight                                                            
the need for this project.                                                                                                      
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  continued  by saying  a northern  access  route                                                            
would both increase the  number of visitors, currently restricted by                                                            
vehicle capacity limits,  and expand the shoulder and winter tourist                                                            
seasons.  The  concept of a northern access route  has been endorsed                                                            
by the  National Park  System Advisory  Board in  its resolution  of                                                            
12/14/94, the  Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce,  the Fairbanks                                                            
North Star  Borough, the Anchorage  Municipal Assembly, the  City of                                                            
Nenana, the  Anchorage Star  of the North  Chamber of Commerce,  the                                                            
City of  Seward,  the Alaska  Visitor's Association,  the  Anchorage                                                            
Convention  and   Visitor's  Bureau,  and  the  Associated   General                                                            
Contractors of Alaska, among others.                                                                                            
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  addressed  concerns brought  up  by the  Alaska                                                            
Conservation Voters  (ACV).  The first concern he  addressed was the                                                            
South Denali Development  Plan.  Currently, there is minimal funding                                                            
for this  project, even though  ACV makes  it sound like  facilities                                                            
are being developed  and are near  actual construction.   The second                                                            
concern  is that  Taxpayers  for Common  Sense  have  said a  second                                                            
access route into  Denali is one of the "ten worst  road projects in                                                            
America."   SB  3 is  an appropriation  for a  study,  and if it  is                                                            
determined that  rail access, which Senator Therriault  supports, is                                                            
the best and  preferred way of providing  access, the road  could be                                                            
developed by the private  sector - it would not have to be done with                                                            
taxpayer money.  The third  concern addressed is that Denali Park is                                                            
proposing  a  closed-door   policy  toward  park  users.     Senator                                                            
Therriault said  if half of the current visitors went  into the park                                                            
by bus and  the other half  entered by rail,  half as many  vehicles                                                            
would  enter.   The  existing  visitor population  could  be  served                                                            
better  and in a  more environmentally  sensitive  manner.   Senator                                                            
Therriault  said it  would make  sense for  the state  to match  the                                                            
funds so the study can get underway.                                                                                            
Number 685                                                                                                                      
SENATOR WARD  asked if any of the  other "9 worst roads in  America"                                                            
were in Alaska.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR THERRIAULT  said a web site  for Tax Payers for Commonsense                                                             
(TPC) might have this information.                                                                                              
CHAIRMAN  COWDERY  said  he would  contact  them  and ask  for  this                                                            
Number 727                                                                                                                      
SENATOR TAYLOR asked if a right-of-way has been designated.                                                                     
SENATOR  THERRIAULT said  Wolf Townships  is one  area that  extends                                                            
into the  park but not inside  the boundary.   This area extends  to                                                            
the  west,  off  the  park  highway.   It  is  state  land  that  is                                                            
envisioned to  be part of the access route and is  not an identified                                                            
right-of-way.  This study will identify right-of-way.                                                                           
SENATOR TAYLOR said that  instead of doing an environmental analysis                                                            
on an entire watershed  it might be preferable to  designate what is                                                            
to  be studied.    He  recommended  adding  the  words "preliminary                                                             
engineering  and  other  studies"  after  the words  "environmental                                                             
analysis."   This  would allow  a "P line"  through  the area.   The                                                            
environmental   analysis  would   speak  to   the  effects   on  the                                                            
environment from the centerline of the road.                                                                                    
Number 867                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN  COWDERY asked about  the proposed  changes Senator  Taylor                                                            
MR. JIM  O'TOOLE,  staff to Senator  Frank Murkowski,  said  Senator                                                            
Taylor's  changes were a  fine idea.  Knowing  the routes would  add                                                            
more meaning to the environmental impact statement.                                                                             
SENATOR TAYLOR said the  route should be determined before doing the                                                            
environmental  analysis.   Previous  bills have  included the  words                                                            
"EIS and preliminary engineering."   Possibly the words "additional"                                                            
and "studies" would be an important addition.                                                                                   
Number 960                                                                                                                      
MS. WILDA  RODMAN, staff  to Senator Therriault,  said a letter  was                                                            
received  from the  Federal Highway  Administration  concerning  the                                                            
definition   of  "construct"  in   the  TEA-21  bill.     "In  their                                                            
interpretation, construct  is a very broad term and includes studies                                                            
environmental, all work incidental to construction."                                                                            
SENATOR TAYLOR  said the words "preliminary engineering"  would be a                                                            
tighter definition.   He recommended not appropriating  the money to                                                            
DOTPF and asked if there  would be a way to divert the appropriation                                                            
and place  it with another  authority.  Senator  Taylor wondered  if                                                            
there was a  borough or public entity  to which state funding  could                                                            
be conveyed, insuring the funding would be spent.                                                                               
Number 1058                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  said the  state has  to  make the  match.   The                                                            
Denali Borough  would like to receive the money and  they have lined                                                            
up a  consultant that  would oversee  the work.   The work would  be                                                            
contracted out.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR TAYLOR said it  still might be necessary to put something in                                                            
the bill saying the money  would go to DOTPF but must be transferred                                                            
to the borough doing the work.                                                                                                  
MS. RODMAN  said she had a letter  addressed to the commissioner  of                                                            
DOTPF   from  the   Denali  Borough   asking  for   a  transfer   of                                                            
responsibility agreement,  allowing the borough to do the work.  She                                                            
does not  know if  DOTPF can  grant the transfer  of responsibility                                                             
agreement or if the legislature  has to appropriate the money first.                                                            
SENATOR TAYLOR  said that legal services should be  consulted to see                                                            
if SB 3 could  be worded in a way that would remove  discretion from                                                            
DOTPF.   The intent  needs to be  clear - money  is to flow  through                                                            
DOTPF to the borough.                                                                                                           
Number 1069                                                                                                                     
SENATOR ELTON  commented that if this project is on  the STIP, DOTPF                                                            
seems to be biased. He  would like to know why it is on the STIP and                                                            
where it is.                                                                                                                    
MS.  RODMAN  said  DOTPF  has  told  her  that  once  the  money  is                                                            
authorized as high priority  funds it is then appropriated in a lump                                                            
sum.   DOTPF  doles it  out on  case-by-case  projects.   First,  to                                                            
projects  that come forward  with a local sponsor  - in this  case a                                                            
local sponsor  had not come  forward.  Now,  the Denali borough  has                                                            
written a letter  for the transfer  of responsibility agreement  and                                                            
they have passed  a resolution.  There is also a letter  designating                                                            
Alaska Transportation  Consultants as their engineering  department.                                                            
SENATOR ELTON  said this would comport with the relationship  he has                                                            
with DOTPF.   He asked about a study  the National Park Service  did                                                            
in 1997, which  had a conclusion that the northern  access route did                                                            
not fit the management plan for the park.                                                                                       
MS.  RODMAN  said  she  had  read  the study  and  thinks  it  is  a                                                            
"difference in opinions."                                                                                                       
SENATOR  ELTON said  it might  be helpful  if a copy  of this  study                                                            
could be part of the committee packet.                                                                                          
MS. RODMAN said  the Denali Task Force (DTF) was commissioned  to do                                                            
a  study  on transportation   issues in  the  park.   One  of  their                                                            
recommendations  was  against  a north  Denali  access  route.   The                                                            
National Park  System Advisory Board  looked at this study  and then                                                            
passed an  amendment overruling  the Denali  Task Force saying  they                                                            
did not  concur with the  DTF decision.  Ms.  Rodman said she  would                                                            
provide the committee with copies of the resolution.                                                                            
Number 1335                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  WILKEN commented  that 300,000  visitors  travel to  Denali                                                            
National Park each year  expecting to see Mt. McKinley.  Less than a                                                            
third of  these visitors  have an opportunity  to see the  mountain.                                                            
Alaska promises  its visitors a view  of the mountain and  what they                                                            
are shown  is an  "ugly canyon."   Senator Wilken  said he  applauds                                                            
Senator Therriault  for telling Senator Murkowski  and the people of                                                            
Alaska that  the legislature is serious  about this project.   "This                                                            
is world  class, and it's  high time that  we develop that  mountain                                                            
and  develop  the  view  of  that  mountain  in an  environmentally                                                             
friendly way that fulfills the promise we make to our visitors."                                                                
Number 1451                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  WARD said he  thinks this  is a good  project and he  hopes                                                            
this same procedure  would be considered  for a Juneau access  road.                                                            
SENATOR  TAYLOR said  he would also  like access  for the  Bradfield                                                            
SENATOR TAYLOR  asked if  Loren Croxten chaired  the report  done by                                                            
the Denali  Task Force.  It is Senator  Taylor's understanding  from                                                            
Mr. Croxten, that the park  service and Governor Knowles' appointees                                                            
to the  board distorted  that report  so much that  that is  why the                                                            
report was overturned.                                                                                                          
MS. RODMAN  gave the  committee copies  of the  resolution that  was                                                            
passed by the park system advisory board.                                                                                       
Number 1532                                                                                                                     
MR. TOM BRIGHAM,  Planning Director, DOTPF, said the  department has                                                            
no problem  with SB 3, on the assumption  that the appropriation  is                                                            
in addition to the existing capital budget.                                                                                     
SENATOR WARD  asked what would be  the best way to ensure  the money                                                            
does not  go through DOTPF  and goes directly  to Mayor Gonzales  of                                                            
the Denali Borough.                                                                                                             
MR. BRIGHAM replied  he did not know if this could  be done legally.                                                            
DOTPF would have no problem  with language in the bill showing clear                                                            
intent that the funds are  to go through DOTPF to the Denali Borough                                                            
for local  match.  DOTPF  has no interest  in "short stopping"  this                                                            
from happening.                                                                                                                 
Number 1623                                                                                                                     
SENATOR ELTON  asked what would happen  to the position on  the STIP                                                            
now that there is local sponsorship.                                                                                            
MR. BRIGHAM  said this project is  in 2002-2003 in the STIP.   It is                                                            
his assumption  it would remain in 2002.  There does  not seem to be                                                            
a problem with the Denali Borough initiating this project.                                                                      
SENATOR ELTON  asked if  "preliminary engineering"  would be  one of                                                            
the necessary studies.                                                                                                          
MR.  BRIGHAM replied  yes.   Given  a project  of  this nature,  Mr.                                                            
Brigham  estimates  that $1.5  million would  not  be sufficient  to                                                            
complete the environmental work.                                                                                                
SENATOR ELTON  asked if there  would be a  cost estimate, after  the                                                            
preliminary studies are done, for putting a road through.                                                                       
MR. BRIGHAM  said he did  not know what it  would cost.  There  have                                                            
been rough estimates  done in connection with the  railroad proposal                                                            
but he does not know of one done for a road.                                                                                    
SENTOR  ELTON disagreed  with  Senator  Wilken's comment  about  the                                                            
route to the mountain being an "ugly canyon."                                                                                   
Number 1763                                                                                                                     
SENATOR TAYLOR  asked if DOTPF has  done anything about a  right-of-                                                            
way corridor through the park.                                                                                                  
MR.  BRIGHAM  commented  that he  is  not aware  of  a right-of-way                                                             
SENATOR TAYLOR  asked for a ballpark  idea on the quantity  of state                                                            
owned land that would be accessed by this route.                                                                                
MR. BRIGHAM responded he did not know.                                                                                          
SENATOR ELTON  said he thinks the Wolf Townships are  all state land                                                            
and that most of the route will go through the townships.                                                                       
SENATOR TAYLOR commented that that is 36 square miles of land.                                                                  
SENATOR  WILKEN said if  you go  from Healy to  Kantishna, the  Wolf                                                            
Townships is  about half, and it is  all state land, the  other half                                                            
of the land is federal.                                                                                                         
SENATOR TAYLOR  said it must  be "townships"  because a township  by                                                            
itself is six miles by  six miles.  This route is 60 miles and if 30                                                            
miles of this is state land, it may be a vast amount.                                                                           
Number 1846                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  THERRIAULT said  the Stampede  Trail starts  at the  park's                                                            
highway, goes through the  Wolf Townships, and then to a mine.  This                                                            
was one of the  pioneer roads, build in the early  1960's, under the                                                            
state's pioneer  road program.  The  Wolf Townships cover  about one                                                            
third  of  what would  be  the  total  distance,  one third  of  the                                                            
property would be on state land.                                                                                                
SENATOR  TAYLOR asked  if there is  a road going  through this  land                                                            
SENATOR THERRIAULT said  there is an eight-mile stretch of road that                                                            
is used for recreational access.                                                                                                
Number 1940                                                                                                                     
SENATOR TAYLOR asked if  there is private land in the Kantishna.  Is                                                            
the mine site private property?                                                                                                 
SENATOR THERRIAULT  said the mine  facilities were destroyed  by the                                                            
park service, and he is not sure if it is still privately owned.                                                                
MR.  O'TOOLE  said the  106th  Congress  passed  a bill  giving  the                                                            
University of Alaska a  mine outside the park, and Stampede Mine was                                                            
given back to the park service.                                                                                                 
SENATOR TAYLOR  said there might be several thousand  acres of state                                                            
land  the  public  could be  using  for  recreational  purposes  but                                                            
because there is no access  it is unavailable.  He asked if the park                                                            
wants to take this land back.                                                                                                   
SENATOR THERRIAULT said  the state owns this land.  The price put on                                                            
the acreage is  about $90 million.  The sale of this  land into park                                                            
status is something  Senator Therriault would oppose.   The proposal                                                            
for swap and sale has been stopped.                                                                                             
SENATOR  ELTON said the  state did  not propose  to sell this  land;                                                            
there was a  proposal to give the  land to the university  as a land                                                            
SENATOR TAYLOR added that  the university proposed to sell the land.                                                            
Number 2060                                                                                                                     
MS. SUSAN SCHRADER,  Alaska Conservation Voters, read  the following                                                            
     Alaska    Conservation   Alliance    (ACA)   and   Alaska                                                                  
     Conservation  Voters  are sister nonprofit  organizations                                                                  
     dedicated  to  protecting  Alaska's  environment  through                                                                  
     public   education   and   advocacy.     Our   44  member                                                                  
     organizations   and  businesses   represent  over  35,000                                                                  
     registered Alaskan voters.   Many of our members each year                                                                 
     join with  visitors from other states and other  countries                                                                 
     to enjoy  activities  within our national  parks.  We  are                                                                 
     particularly   committed  to   the  conservation  of   the                                                                 
     wilderness resources and values of our park lands.                                                                         
     ACA has  several concerns with  SB 3.  Building a road  or                                                                 
     railroad  that begins only 17  miles north of an existing                                                                  
     road and  ends at the same place  makes little sense.   It                                                                 
     is difficult  to justify putting $264,000 towards  a study                                                                 
     for a  speculative and unnecessary  project when the  same                                                                 
     money  could  be put  to  use  building  actual projects.                                                                  
     There  are many  other  opportunities  to spend  money  on                                                                 
     roads around the state.                                                                                                    
     The final  price tag of $87 to $213 million, depending  on                                                                 
     whether   it  is  a  road  or  railroad  will  require   a                                                                 
     substantial  match  by  the state,  especially  since  the                                                                 
     National  Park Service opposes  the project at this  time.                                                                 
     There  are  better opportunities  to  promote  tourism  in                                                                 
     Denali National Park.  The  main problem with the northern                                                                 
     access is  that it has not been demonstrated to  have much                                                                 
     demand.   The park  service feels  for the  next 15 or  20                                                                 
     years  their   current  plan  can  accommodate  increased                                                                  
     The  main reason  people  come  to Denali  is to  see  the                                                                 
     mountain, but the second  reason is to see wildlife.  This                                                                 
     particular  route  does not  have good  wildlife viewing.                                                                  
     There is the  risk of increasing visitor expectations  and                                                                 
     then  leaving them  unsatisfied  because of  the wildlife                                                                  
Number 2166                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN  COWDERY  asked what  roads  would  be better  for  viewing                                                            
MS. SCHRADER  said  ACV would  be happy  to look at  any routes  the                                                            
legislature or  DOT would propose.  ACV would scrutinize  the routes                                                            
and look at their merits and drawbacks.                                                                                         
MS. SCHRADER  noted  that Denali Park  does not  have a closed-door                                                             
policy towards park users.   The north and south entrance areas each                                                            
have a  development  plan.  These  plans include  a visitor  center,                                                            
interpretative  trails,  picnic  areas,  and campground  sites  that                                                            
would address visitor needs.                                                                                                    
MS. SCHRADER said  another issue is where the development  is taking                                                            
place.   The south side  development seems  to be a more  reasonable                                                            
place  to  focus  on development   because  it is  closer  to  major                                                            
population areas.                                                                                                               
MS.  SCHRADER  noted that  this  is a  very  controversial  project,                                                            
nationally  as well as within Alaska.   Taxpayer's for Common  Sense                                                            
list this road as one of the 10 worst road projects in America.                                                                 
MS. SCHRADER said  there are additional concerns about  the possible                                                            
transfer  of responsibility  to the borough.   The borough  is local                                                            
government without any road powers at this point.                                                                               
MS. SCHRADER  said this  is an  ill-advised project  that will  have                                                            
considerable  controversy   and  ACA  suggests  the  committee  vote                                                            
against SB 3.                                                                                                                   
Number 2250                                                                                                                     
SENATOR COWDERY asked Ms. Schrader if she had visited this area.                                                                
MS. SCHRADER said she had not yet had that opportunity.                                                                         
SENATOR  TAYLOR  asked Ms.  Schrader  about  her concerns  over  the                                                            
conveyance of  money to the Denali Borough because  it does not have                                                            
road powers.                                                                                                                    
MS. SCHRADER  said it is her understanding  the Denali Borough  is a                                                            
relatively  new borough and not financially  well off.  The  concern                                                            
is whether or  not the borough would be able to properly  manage the                                                            
work needed on construction and long-term maintenance.                                                                          
SENATOR TAYLOR  said no one is contemplating that  the borough would                                                            
be  responsible   for  the  maintenance  of  the   road.    He  said                                                            
transferring  money  to a borough  without  road powers  might  be a                                                            
MS. SCHRADER said she did  not have all the details on this specific                                                            
SENATOR TAYLOR  said a lawsuit  could possibly  be filed to  prevent                                                            
the expenditure  of the funds because  a borough does not  have road                                                            
powers.  He  said this needed to be  investigated before  passage of                                                            
SB 3.                                                                                                                           
SENATOR  ELTON said  he was  also concerned  that the  lack of  road                                                            
powers would impede local sponsorship.                                                                                          
Number 2349                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  WILKEN  asked  if ACV  would  object  to a  railroad  going                                                            
through the park instead of a road.                                                                                             
MS.  SCHRADER  said it  would  depend on  the  project  and how  the                                                            
ownership was structured.                                                                                                       
Side B                                                                                                                        
SENATOR  WILKEN  asked  Ms. Schrader  to  explain  the "closed-door                                                             
policy" again.                                                                                                                  
MS.  SCHRADER  referred  to  her written  statement  and  said  that                                                            
sometimes the  park service comes  under criticism for not  being as                                                            
responsive to visitor needs as some people would like.                                                                          
SENATOR WILKEN  said that during the summer the park  service closes                                                            
the gates to the road that  leads to the mountain and opens the road                                                            
again in the fall.  The  only way to get through is on a bus or with                                                            
a permit.   Senator  Wilken said,  "To me, that's  closed door  that                                                            
they open when  they want.  There's no question that  there's a line                                                            
at the door to get in.   People who go there cannot just go into the                                                            
SENATOR  WILKEN said  the  viewing opportunities  on  the north  and                                                            
south side of the mountain  are different.  The chances on the south                                                            
side are one in  three of seeing the mountain.  The  chances are two                                                            
in three on the north.   There is a reason for having access to both                                                            
sides of the  mountain.  "The mountain  and the park are  big enough                                                            
for as many people that can be put in in a friendly manner."                                                                    
SENATOR WILKEN said this  is not a controversial project in his town                                                            
and there is broad support for this project.                                                                                    
SENATOR WILKEN  said he did not mean to infer, in  earlier comments,                                                            
that the  canyon  getting to  the mountain  was "ugly."   It is  the                                                            
development  at the  mouth of  the park that  is ugly.   It is  ugly                                                            
because the canyon is interspersed  with hotels that are attached to                                                            
the hills, flags  are flying, and trinkets are being  sold next to a                                                            
beautiful river.                                                                                                                
Number 2256                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  TAYLOR asked  Ms.  Schrader to  name any  road development                                                             
project that ACV has ever supported.                                                                                            
MS. SCHRADER replied  that most members in Anchorage  have supported                                                            
road maintenance on existing urban roads.                                                                                       
SENATOR TAYLOR said he meant new road development.                                                                              
MS. SCHRADER  said she was certain  there had been roads  in certain                                                            
urban  areas  that  ACA had  not  opposed.   She  does  not  condone                                                            
building  in areas where  there would be  significant environmental                                                             
impacts that outweigh the benefit of a road.                                                                                    
SENATOR  TAYLOR said  that  she was  expressing an  opinion  without                                                            
offering   the  committee   actual   information   that  there   are                                                            
significant  environmental  impacts outweighing  the benefit  of the                                                            
MS. SCHRADER said she did  not know all the environmental impacts of                                                            
the road.                                                                                                                       
SENATOR  TAYLOR  commented  that she  also  did  not know  what  the                                                            
economic  benefits of  the road would  be.  Senator  Taylor  said he                                                            
would like to see this information if she had it.                                                                               
Number 2154                                                                                                                     
MS. SCHRADER said  her first point was that ACA does  not think this                                                            
is a good use of money.   $264,000 is not an insignificant amount of                                                            
money.   ACV has  looked at the  maps, and  knowing from  experience                                                            
what the area  looks like, they are  suggesting this money  could be                                                            
put toward  other road projects that  would have less environmental                                                             
SENATOR  TAYLOR asked  if ACV had  done a cost  benefit analysis  on                                                            
this road, or are they  aware of any cost benefit analyses that have                                                            
been done.                                                                                                                      
MS.  SCHRADER  said the  arguments  were  outlined in  her  position                                                            
paper. In the opinion of  the organizations that belong to ACV, this                                                            
is not the  appropriate place to put  a road at this time  and it is                                                            
not appropriate to spend  state money evaluating a road or railroad.                                                            
Number 2030                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  ELTON  said  he  suspects   that  history  will  show  that                                                            
environmental  organization opposition has not stopped  the building                                                            
of roads  but that  other things  have happened  to stop the  roads.                                                            
Economic feasibility  has probably  played a big part in  this issue                                                            
and  also  in  how  the  legislature  and  DOTPF  have  prioritized                                                             
Number 1972                                                                                                                     
MAYOR JOHN GONZALES, Denali  Borough, said that the borough would be                                                            
willing to  take the lead.  This project  would help all  the people                                                            
of Alaska.  This  is an opportunity to open up the  park to the many                                                            
visitors  who come  and  are not  able  to see  the mountain.    All                                                            
aspects have to be looked  at, but he was sure that when a study had                                                            
been  completed  it would  show  that a  road  or railway  would  be                                                            
feasible  and could  be done  in an  environmentally  friendly  way.                                                            
Mayor Gonzales said the Denali Borough supported SB 3.                                                                          
SENATOR TAYLOR asked if  Mayor Gonzales knew of a cost benefit study                                                            
being done on this route.                                                                                                       
MAYOR GONZALES said a study had been done by the park service.                                                                  
MR. O'TOOLE  said that Senator  Murkowski has  been working  on this                                                            
project for about  12 years.  One of his objectives  was to make the                                                            
road   environmentally   sound   and   alleviate   the  overcrowded                                                             
conditions, enhancing the  visitor's experience.  SB 3 was the first                                                            
step in ensuring these objectives.                                                                                              
SENATOR TAYLOR said he  would like to know the utilization of Denali                                                            
Park compared to Yellowstone or Glacier National Park.                                                                          
MR. O'TOOLE  said Denali  was twice the size  of Yellowstone,  which                                                            
has four entrances compared to Denali's one entrance.                                                                           
SENATOR TAYLOR  asked if  Senator Murkowski's  office had access  to                                                            
studies  that show  the cost  of a  railroad  or road  and what  the                                                            
economic  benefit  might be  and what  the  environmental  detriment                                                            
might be.                                                                                                                       
MR.  O'TOOLE said  as  far as  he knew  there  had been  no  studies                                                            
MS. NANCY BALE, speaking  via teleconference for the Denali Citizens                                                            
Council (DCC), made the following comments:                                                                                     
     I am  president of  the Denali Citizens  Council, a  local                                                                 
     citizens oversight  group.  Our organization has  followed                                                                 
     the north access issue for  the past ten years.  We have a                                                                 
     few concerns and questions concerning SB 3.                                                                                
     First,   this  bill   is  vague   and  we   request   that                                                                 
     clarification be provided on the following points.                                                                         
   · How was the figure of $264,000 determined?  Is this the                                                                    
     entire  sum or is it  to be combined  with another study?                                                                  
     Does it constitute matching  funds for Senator Murkowski's                                                                 
     north access  rider or is it a freestanding, state  study?                                                                 
   · Upon what criteria is the expense based?  Is this to be a                                                                  
     full environmental impact  study, a survey, an analysis of                                                                 
     costs, what?                                                                                                               
   · What route is meant?  Is it the Stampede Road, a new                                                                       
     route, a combination  of routes?  Is this a route  through                                                                 
     state  land to the eastern boundary  of Denali or is  it a                                                                 
     route  through  state and  federal land,  all  the way  to                                                                 
     Wonder Lake?                                                                                                               
   · What sort of capital project is being referred to in the                                                                   
     body of the bill?  Is this  the road itself, a railroad, a                                                                 
     Second, is  there a demonstrated need for a new  study for                                                                 
     this  access?   I have copies  of the  Denali Access  Task                                                                 
     Force  Report of  1991, the  Denali Task  Force Report  of                                                                 
     1994, and the North Access  Feasibility Study of 1997.  It                                                                 
     is clear  to the Denali Citizens  Council that this  issue                                                                 
     has been studied  adequately over the years.   We urge the                                                                 
     committee  to reconsider  committing  state  funds to  yet                                                                 
     another study of this issue.                                                                                               
     Third, this  appropriation for a north access  study would                                                                 
     simply  the tip  of the  iceberg,  in terms  of potential                                                                  
     costs.  If a road or railroad  were actually to go forward                                                                 
     the  cost would be  staggering, as  previous studies  have                                                                 
     shown.  In  addition to the estimated costs, $100,000,000                                                                  
     for  80 miles  of road  or $198,000,000  for  a railroad,                                                                  
     there  would be ancillary costs  involved for building  in                                                                 
     an area  with multiple jurisdictions.   These include  but                                                                 
     are not limited to:                                                                                                        
   · Projected maintenance costs, including continued supplies                                                                  
     of gravel.                                                                                                                 
   · Costs for bridges over braided streams.                                                                                    
   · Wetlands mitigation.                                                                                                       
   · Wildlife management issues, as the north side of Denali                                                                    
     harbors  the   threatened  Toklat  wolves  and  migrating                                                                  
     caribou herds.                                                                                                             
   · Subsistence jurisdictions.                                                                                                 
   · Litigation costs regarding conflicting claims and rights                                                                   
     of way.                                                                                                                    
   · Opposition of NPS to new hotel construction at Wonder                                                                      
     Lake,  and the lack  of carrying capacity  at Wonder  Lake                                                                 
     for new tourist beds.                                                                                                      
     Fourth,  this  bill  takes  the  cart  before  the horse.                                                                  
     Presently,  the  state  is  undertaking  a  Parks Highway                                                                  
     Corridor Study.   This study is now being formulated,  but                                                                 
     it  proposes  to cover  the entire  George  Parks Highway                                                                  
     Corridor.   Nowhere are the problems more obvious  than in                                                                 
     the current  situation.  Before  the state undertakes  any                                                                 
     new,   potentially  contentious   capital  transportation                                                                  
     project  in the  Denali  area, you  need to  conduct  this                                                                 
     corridor study.  It will  provide all of us an opportunity                                                                 
     to sit  back and take stock of  what has already happened                                                                  
     to our major  north south transportation corridor  and try                                                                 
     to fix that before undertaking anything new.                                                                               
     Undertaking  a project  of  this magnitude  would require                                                                  
     greater  opportunities for public  input in the selection                                                                  
     of alternatives  that have heretofore been given.   A full                                                                 
     EIS  is required.   There is considerable  disapproval  in                                                                 
     the  Denali  community as  to the  desirability  of  north                                                                 
     access  into the  park.  Despite  the value  of increased                                                                  
     tourism  for borough coffers,  tourism increased beyond  a                                                                 
     reasonable level will end  up costing the borough far more                                                                 
     than it  provides.  Please study  the park's highway  in a                                                                 
     systematic manner and learn  of the concerns that exist on                                                                 
     the  ground, now,  before taking  on such  a questionable                                                                  
     project as north access.                                                                                                   
     The   Denali   Citizens   Council   opposes    any   state                                                                 
     appropriation  for a north access  study or construction.                                                                  
MR. TROY NAVE, speaking via teleconference for the National Parks                                                               
Conservation Association, thanked the committee and said that Ms.                                                               
Bale covered the issues he was concerned with.                                                                                  
MR. LAND COLE  testified via teleconference  from Anchorage  for the                                                            
Denali  National Park  Wilderness Centers,  Ltd.   Due to  technical                                                            
problems,  Mr.  Cole's  testimony  was  inaudible.    Following  are                                                            
highlights from his faxed testimony:                                                                                            
   · The existence of an additional transportation corridor would                                                               
     irreparably  harm the wilderness character of  the park and its                                                            
   · The $1.5 million dollar appropriation is only a fraction of                                                                
     the actual cost of  the planned environmental assessment.  This                                                            
     under funding of an  environmental assessment begs the question                                                            
     of  how this money  would be  spent since it  is not enough  to                                                            
     complete  the project.  The construction, environmental  impact                                                            
     studies, and litigation  expenses surrounding the total cost of                                                            
     building  another road into Denali would be a  waste of federal                                                            
     and state transportation funds.                                                                                            
   · Use of the current road is only required for less than three                                                               
     and a  half months of the year.   Two roads to the same  place,                                                            
     with their beginning  point only 17 miles apart makes no sense.                                                            
      The present  road has been adequately improved  and maintained                                                            
     to serve  area businesses as  well as over half a million  park                                                            
     visitors  during the summer season.  The current  road provides                                                            
     access to  the best parts of the park.  Extra  roads would only                                                            
     serve  to diminish the wilderness  and the wildlife  experience                                                            
     visitors expect and businesses rely on.                                                                                    
   · Busses used on the current road are new buses and are not old                                                              
     school  buses used  prior to  1994.  Of  the approximately  116                                                            
     buses  going into  the  park per  day only  four go  as far  as                                                            
     Kantishna - there is not much demand for a 10-hour ride.                                                                   
   · The majority of visitors only go the first 15 miles into the                                                               
     park.   SB 3 will  increase tourism causing  a demand  for park                                                            
     access closer to Anchorage,  not for a longer bus or train ride                                                            
     to and from Kantishna.                                                                                                     
   · The railroad proposal, which intends to reduce visitor impacts                                                             
     yet  increase the  number of  visitors,  ignores the  following                                                            
     facts:   Year round visitation  to Denali is not sufficient  to                                                            
     support  a railroad financially.   The level of development  in                                                            
     Kantishna   required  to  support  the  projected   numbers  of                                                            
     visitors  would  be in  direct conflict  to  the National  Park                                                            
     Service's management plan.                                                                                                 
   · The Denali Task Force report, which addressed the feasibility                                                              
     of a variety  of development opportunities for  Denali, arrived                                                            
     at the conclusion  that a north access route should not be part                                                            
     of future development  because of the negative impacts it would                                                            
     have   on  the  park.    The   group  suggested  that   further                                                            
     development should  be concentrated on the southern side of the                                                            
MR. DON LOWELL,  testifying via teleconference from  Fairbanks, said                                                            
he was a retired special  assistant for DOTPF.  Mr. Lowell headed up                                                            
the study  for DOTPF on the  northern access  route to Denali.   The                                                            
study found  both a road and railroad  feasible.  The average  daily                                                            
road traffic would be 11,000 vehicles a day.                                                                                    
MR. LOWELL  said the Denali  Borough is now  involved with  DOTPF in                                                            
the Nenana  Canyon Safety Project.   The borough could certainly  be                                                            
involved in  the engineering and planning  of the new access  route.                                                            
Since his retirement, Mr.  Lowell has been involved with a nonprofit                                                            
transportation-consulting   firm.   The firm  wants  to promote  and                                                            
assist rural and  urban areas with transportation  projects that are                                                            
not being  pursued by  the state.   His organization  has agreed  to                                                            
assist   the   Denali  Borough   in   doing   the  pre-construction                                                             
environmental  impact statement.   The borough can do this  and they                                                            
do have the authority to do this.                                                                                               
MR. LOWELL  said  the existing  road is  one of  the most  dangerous                                                            
roads in  the world with  steep curves,  vertical drop-offs,  narrow                                                            
roads, and no guardrails.                                                                                                       
MR. LOWELL commended  the senate for recommending  SB 3 and he hopes                                                            
it will approve this project.                                                                                                   
SENATOR TAYLOR  asked if  a feasibility study  had been done  in the                                                            
past for this road.                                                                                                             
MR. LOWELL  said  the studies  were not  feasibility  studies.   The                                                            
state was  involved in two  projects, one  in 1961 for building  the                                                            
Pioneer Access  Road, the other in  1993 for a road from  Healy into                                                            
McGrath. Governor Knowles  canceled the later study.  DOTPF provided                                                            
cost estimates and estimated  daily traffic flow to the park service                                                            
so it could respond to a request from Senator Murkowski.                                                                        
MR.  JOSEPH  N. FIELDS,  III,  testifying  via  teleconference  from                                                            
Fairbanks  for  Kantishna  Holding, Inc.  (KHI),  said  he had  been                                                            
involved  in the northern  access process for  about a decade.   KHI                                                            
had  looked  at this  issue  very  carefully  and had  provided  the                                                            
committee with resolutions  from all across the rail belt supporting                                                            
SB 3.  Mr.  Fields wanted to emphasize  that the park is  not at its                                                            
carrying capacity,  the road is.   The park is 10,000 square  miles,                                                            
6.4  million  acres.    There  was  a  BRW  study  that  said  1,300                                                            
administrative  vehicles could be  taken off park roads and  if they                                                            
were replaced  with 1,300 buses, 50,000 more people  could enter the                                                            
park.  Mr. Fields  said the railroad broadly appeals  to the general                                                            
environmental community.                                                                                                        
SENATOR WILKEN  asked to move CSSB 3 from committee  with individual                                                            
SENATOR ELTON  said he would  be more comfortable  if the  committee                                                            
held  onto the  bill  until the  committee  was furnished  with  the                                                            
economic analysis and impact studies.                                                                                           
CHAIRMAN  COWDERY  said  SB  3 had  been  referred  to  the  finance                                                            
committee,  and  he wanted  to move  it  out of  the transportation                                                             
SENATOR  ELTON  objected  to  the  motion  to  move CSSB  3  out  of                                                            
committee.   A role call  vote was taken.   Senator Taylor,  Senator                                                            
Wilken and Chairman Cowdery voted "yea," and Senator Elton voted                                                                
"nay."  CSSB 3 was moved from committee.                                                                                        

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