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03/14/2012

Fix It First: If You Build It, They Will Not Come

Arctic villages are few and far between, but the beautiful landscapes they reside in are famed and special.  No roads connect these villages, and a new proposed road that would slice through this special land is strongly opposed.  Many of Sierra Club's members have been fighting the Juneau Access Road for years, but the Arctic's equivalent boondoggle of a project, the Road to Umiat, is less known.  However, opposition is strong.

The proposed Road to Umiat would cross one hundred miles of the vast Arctic, not with the purpose of connecting communities to each other, but connecting extraction companies to oil, gas, and coal resources.  Paid for with public funds, this road is a subsidy for wealthy corporations.  The Sierra Club has been working with communities to oppose this road and the unwanted development it would bring to the Arctic.
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The Road to Umiat would cut through prized subsistence hunting and fishing grounds as it connected Alaska's only road to the Prudhoe Bay oil field, to the remote Arctic site of Umiat at the Western Arctic Reserve.  In addition, the road would cross four major Arctic rivers including the Colville, the largest on the North Slope.  This road would provide access to vast wild lands. It would also cross important, resource-rich areas for subsistence affecting caribou, moose, brown bear, furbearers, fish, and edible plants. 

It should be a no-brainer for the state to spend their money on smart projects that benefit Alaskans instead of on projects that solely subsidize industry.  Existing road, bridge, and port projects throughout the state should be maintained and improved before the State invests in unneeded and harmful endeavors.  The proposed road would cost anywhere from $400-500 million dollars—not including expensive bridges and yearly maintenance costs—with the stated purpose of reaching highly-speculative oil, gas, and coal deposits in the state's Foothills area north of the Brooks Range.  

The story of Alaska is riddled with boondoggles and numerous examples  of failing to complete major transportation projects.  The state has already spent more than $133 million on five road and bridge projects, allocated another $205 million more, and has no plans to allocate the $5 billion needed to complete them.  Among these projects are the Juneau Access Road and the Road to Umiat.

Voices of local opposition for this road emanate from Villages across the entire North Slope.  Six resolutions opposing the road have been passed by  villages, tribes, and committees throughout the Arctic.  The biggest concern is the impact of the road and subsequent developments on caribou herd migration routes and threats to other subsistence resources.  The Sierra Club and our coalition partners' efforts are  welcomed support from Arctic communities.  In February, seven individuals visited the capitol in Juneau to meet with legislators and share their stories and resolutions against the road. 

"Caribou herds are very sensitive to the kind of industrial energy development, noise and access the Umiat road would bring," said Lillian Gordon Stone, Naqsragmiut Tribal Council in Anaktuvuk Pass.  "We are caribou people. We want to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to carry on our traditional, subsistence way of life. Without the caribou we lose our identity as a people."

This widespread opposition has changed the dynamic of the debate and has called on Alaska to "fix it first:" we must stop this project now before the state wastes more money on these corporate giveaways that threaten our wild places.

--Lindsey Hajduk

 

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