TANANA, Alaska (AP) — Work has started on the first Alaska road in nearly 20 years to connect a Bush community to the road system.
A kickoff celebration was held Monday for the one-lane gravel road, which will connect Manley Hot Springs to Tanana, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/neUnzb).
The $11 million road project is scheduled to be completed by December 2015 and is intended to be part of the eventual road to Nome. However, there are no plans in the works to extend the road beyond Tanana.
The road also doesn't quite make it to Tanana. The gravel lane will end on the south bank of the Yukon River, 6 miles upstream from Tanana. There are no plans now for a bridge over the river, meaning people will have to take a 20-minute boat ride to the Athabascan village of 250 people.
In all, the project includes 20 miles of new road and 14 miles of improved road near Manley Hot Springs.
Proponents of the road say it will provide lower freight costs to the village, but opponents say it could lead to more outsiders overrunning fish and hunting grounds. It won't lower fuel costs since the road in its present form won't support fuel trucks.
"I have kind of mixed feelings on the road, but everybody does and I'm glad to see we are working together to make this happen," Tanana Mayor Donna Folger said at the kickoff event, which included an appearance by Gov. Sean Parnell and Athabascan dancers.
The Tanana City Council, the Tanana Tribal Council, the Manley Traditional Council and the Ruby Tribal Council, downstream of Tanana, all approved resolutions of support for the project.
However, Tanana Tribal Council Chairman Curtis Sommer told the newspaper that support in the town is about evenly split.
He has concerns the road will bring others onto land used for subsistence hunting and worries about what could happen to Fish Lake, a habitat for moose and waterfowl. He also doubts the benefits others tout.
"It appears my people are always the last in line to benefit from any project no matter what is said," he said. "I'm going to be back in 10 years, and I'm going to ask the leaders who wanted this highway: 'How did it benefit your people?'"
The last Alaska community connected to the road system was Kasaan, population on 29. It was linked to the Prince of Wales Island road system about two decades ago.
State Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, hopes the road will help reverse a trend of Tanana residents leaving the community.
The village has long been a trading hub, and once was home to the Gold Rush era Fort Gibbon, an Army post that closed in 1924. A regional hospital closed in 1982.
Bishop said Tanana, which is about 130 miles west of Fairbanks, had 700 residents when he first visited in 1974.
"I'm hoping we can bring our people back with this road," he said.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com