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Residents question the need for a Kake access road


dani palmer / Petersburg Pilot

Andy Hughes, of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Southeast Region, passes around the mic at a meeting about the Kake access road project on Tuesday evening in Assembly chambers.

What is the need for a road between Kake and Petersburg? That's the question Petersburg residents wanted most answered during a meeting with the Federal Highway Administration and Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) Tuesday evening.

The two entities brought along the McDowell Group and Northern Economics, who conducted studies concerning the project. It was the 2012 Alaska Legislature that appropriated $40 million to ADOT&PF to construct about 22 miles of a new, single lane, unpaved road, and to upgrade about 23 miles of existing logging roads on the north end of Kupreanof Island to connect Kake and Petersburg.

"I just can't see that this project is needed," Petersburg resident Dave Randrup said. "We can spend the money on better things."

Randrup wasn't alone in that sentiment as other residents expressed their concerns throughout the meeting.

It began with background on the project and Jim Calvin, with the McDowell Group, presenting the results of a telephone survey that included 301 households in Petersburg and 50 in Kake, conducted in October.

Of those Petersburg residents surveyed, 86 percent had been to Juneau, 30 percent to Sitka and 14 percent to Kake over a 12 month period. One-hundred percent of Kake residents had been to Juneau, 90 percent to Sitka and 41 percent to Petersburg.

Trying to determine what the demand of a road might be, the surveyors asked residents whether or not they would travel it in certain circumstances. Of those Petersburg residents surveyed, 49 percent said they wouldn't make any trips even if there were a three hour one-way trip available for $30. It was determined that those who would travel would take about 1.8 trips per year.

The option of a four hour trip for $50 resulted in an even higher 'no trip' response (56 percent) while $100 for a six hour one-way trip resulted in 73 percent saying they wouldn't make any.

Kake residents would use the options more. Only 34 percent said they wouldn't travel a three hour $30 route while those who said 'yes' would make about 8.8 trips per year. Forty-two percent said 'no' to the four hour trip and 59 percent said 'no' to the six hour one.

Jonathan King talked about the transportation needs assessment Northern Economics did. It completed interviews with individuals and businesses about how the road would affect them.

Juneau is the regional hub. Regional travel patterns wouldn't really change.

"It'd be a dramatic shift for Kake residents," King added, though, noting, for example, that Kake residents have a chance once about every eight days to go northbound in the winter while Petersburg residents can travel it about every three days.

Another positive listed was increased tourism. But the downsides, residents reported, were ferry connection costs, increased business competition and safety and maintenance.

Citizens at the meeting pointed out that some of the statistics seemed high and would mean a ferry twice a day and more than two flights in and out of Petersburg per day.

Citizens weren't fans of the wording used for usage, either, resulting in an estimated 16 to 50 round-trips a day and about 75 to 230 partial trips per day, meaning just stepping on the road, for reasons such as subsistence. About a third of responders said they would use the road for such.

Joe Sebastian, of Kupreanof, said Kake has many roads used for subsistence already.

"I've never seen such an effort to make a molehill a mountain," he added.

Randrup said subsistence impacts are already high; that Kake residents are tired of Sitka and Juneau hunters.

He didn't see a need for the road, either, when Kake residents primarily go to Juneau and Sitka for medical needs.

There were concerns about the effect on wilderness areas, how many properties would be condemned, maintenance and ongoing costs, and those who believed the ferry service should be improved instead of a road built.

Karin McCullough, of Petersburg, said they should take a closer look at where limited dollars can best be spent.

"I would like to put the bigger picture into the needs statement," she added.

Some asked for the chance to communicate between communities, to see if Kake residents want the road.

Dave Beebe, of Petersburg, said Kake residents were beginning to lean more in support for it because they associate it with the transmission line intertie project, thinking it'd follow the same route as the Kake access road.

He added that he hopes the purpose and need statement reveals all the consequences of such a project.

No one spoke in favor of it Tuesday night.

Andy Hughes, with ADOT&PF's southeast region, said they would take input from Petersburg and Kake's Wednesday meeting to revise the purpose and needs assessment and come back in late spring to further discuss the project.


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