West Susitnans Object To Permit Application For Controversial Access Road

As many in the fishing community of the West Susitna area have objected to the proposed West Susitna Access Road, the news today of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s intention to apply for a dredge and fill permit, an organization of concerned West Susitna residents known as Defend the West Su sent out the following press release:

ANCHORAGE— West Susitna guides, residents and business owners today condemned the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s (AIDEA) application for a Clean Water Act dredge and fill (Section 404) permit for the proposed West Susitna Access Road. Additionally, wild salmon advocates, local residents and local business owners urged Alaska’s elected officials to support a financially responsible path that keeps the West Susitna wild — and its businesses healthy.

“AIDEA is the state’s biggest player when it comes to promoting ill-conceived projects,” said Emily Anderson, Alaska Program Director of the Wild Salmon Center. “AIDEA’s ‘Roads to Resources’ investments have ended up being ‘Roads to Nowhere.’ We need a future we can all live with —one built on a sustainable economy, not on speculative projects that jeopardize our fish and wildlife resources and existing businesses.” 

“The more time you spend in the West Susitna, the more you know it needs to be protected,” said Adam Cuthriell, owner and guide with FishHound Expeditions, which operates in the West Susitna. “My business is the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since I was 14. As she grows, I want my 22-month-old daughter to be able to experience how special Alaska is — not to hear about how great it once was.”

Kirsten Dixon, owner of Winterlake Lodge, chef, and year-round resident of the West Susitna, said “My husband and I made life changes to live where we live, as did most people in West Susitna. Our lodge is one of the oldest in Alaska. It’s deeply disturbing that distant people far away can damage our ability to provide our guests the wild, natural geography we promise them, threaten one of Southcentral Alaska’s biggest salmon runs, and change our entire life trajectory. It’s time for Alaskans to take a hard look at just why our public money is funding a project that will damage West Susitna’s economy and our greatest resource — our land, clean water, clean soil, and clean air.”

“The proposed West-Su Access Road threatens the Mat-Su region’s existing economy — while providing no benefit to the state,” said Steve Perrins, who owns Rainy Pass Lodge, on Puntilla Lake. “As an Alaskan, it’s incredibly upsetting that AIDEA is throwing away state money on a project that will damage our economy, kill many Mat-Su tourism-generating lodge businesses, and destroy my business — the oldest hunting and recreation lodge in Alaska. I am calling on our elected officials to stop wasting state money on this divisive project.”

“Grave concern over the negative impacts of the proposed West Susitna Access Road has united the business community in the West Su,” said Anders Gustafson, Executive Director of the Alaska Range Alliance, an alliance of lodge owners and private landowners in the West Susitna. “$350 million would be much better spent on fixing roads we already have than on a dumpster fire local people don’t want — and that threatens to destroy existing businesses.”

The West-Su Access road would be a 108-mile private industrial road funded by at least $350 million in taxpayer dollars. (In its press release announcing its permit application, AIDEA calls the road “multi-use.” $350 million, however, is the cost estimate for a private industrial road. Roads open to the public are on average three times more expensive and must be built to higher standards than those built for private industrial use, rendering it highly unlikely the road will in fact be open to the public, despite AIDEA’s claims.) AIDEA has $8.5 million for the project already appropriated. “Alaska Megaproject Update,” a new report from independent economist Ginny Fay, shows that the state of Alaska has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on failed megaprojects like the West Su Access Road. Meanwhile, state-funded megaprojects that succeeded would likely have succeeded anyway, without a handout. That means megaproject expenditures have led to very low net job creation. It also showed that had state funds devoted to megaprojects from 1970-2021 been invested wisely instead, Alaska would have $30.2 billion more in the bank.

“Essentially, Alaska is subsidizing a huge giveaway of its public resources,” Fay wrote in the report. “If a project is not financially feasible, subsidizing it with public money to try to make a bad project feasible is poor and unsustainable public policy.”

“When you find yourself in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging, not to buy more shovels,” said SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol. “The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s own recently released data shows the vast majority of local Alaskans oppose the West Susitna Access Road — meaning it’s the perfect place to stop wasting our money and to start spending it wisely.”

Now that AIDEA has submitted its application for a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, the next step is for the Army Corps of Engineers to deem the application “substantially complete.” AIDEA is still lacking adequate fish and wildlife studies as well as studies on how the proposed road would impact cultural sites. Alaska residents are making it clear via a letter to Governor Mike Dunleavy that “simply put, we do not want this road, it’s a terrible use of state financial resources.” 

For more information on the West Susitna Access Road project visit  www.westsuwild.org.

Defend the West Su is a coalition of citizens, businesses and salmon advocates working to ensure a healthy, sustainable future for the West Susitna.