There's Enough Traffic on the Haul Road
Thanks to Senator Kim Elton for the following commentary and quoted testimony…
The Senate Resources Committee spent a week in October soliciting testimony on SB 85, sponsored by Fairbanks Senator Ralph Seekins. The bill repeals the ban on off-road vehicles in the haul road corridor–the Dalton Highway. Hearings were held in Nome, Fairbanks, Coldfoot/Wiseman (on the haul road), Barrow, and in the Anchorage bedroom community of Peters Creek. Testimony was overwhelmingly opposed to the bill. The following is excerpted testimony presented by then-Mayor George Ahmaogak of Barrow to the committee.
“. . . The history of the haul road has been very much like the history of oil development in our borough. It started out small and contained, but over time it has expanded and changed into something very different from what we thought we were getting.
“With oil development, what started out as a project at Prudhoe Bay gradually spread across the tundra into a series of fields that marched all the way to the Colville River–and now are spreading out across NPR-A.
“In the same way, the Dalton Highway was originally planned and built as an industrial supply road with only one purpose–to get material up to Prudhoe. Over time, its purpose has expanded–first, there were tour buses allowed, then the road was opened to public traffic, and now we’re told that off-road vehicles may be allowed on the restrictive corridor.
“. . . When we are told that a road is going to be built, a road that’s going to cut across 170 miles of our borough, and it’s going to slice right through a major migration route of our caribou, and it’s going to have 18-wheelers kicking up dust and making noise, we naturally get worried about the impacts of this road on subsistence.
“But the State of Alaska reassures us that the impacts will be limited because the road will only be used by the oil companies and their employees will not be allowed to hunt. So the haul road opens to industrial traffic, and we’re still nervous, and we see impacts. But we feel we have been given a promise of limited use on that road and limited impacts. We make the compromise and we accept that road based on these promised restrictions.
“Here’s the important part–we don’t forget the promises that have been made to us. We respect the people who gave us their word on behalf of the State of Alaska.
“Mr. Chairman, SB 85 is proposed legislation that the [North Slope Borough] adamantly opposes. However, I know that it is important for you to understand how it looks from our view. Up here, we still remember the promise of limited use, which was based on a commitment not to mess up the natural movement of the caribou and other animals. We remember the promise not to create any more than an absolute minimum of impacts on our traditional subsistence and our village way of life. We’re tired of tolerating one impact after another until the cumulative impacts have done serious damage to the wildlife that are trying to survive up here and to the people who are trying to maintain a traditional way of life.
“That’s where we’re coming from. Mr. Chairman, we have welcomed the oil industry and we have worked with the State and the Feds to accommodate the needs of a healthy oil and gas economy. Our people have spent more time in D.C. lobbying for ANWR than any other municipality in the state. We have been a good partner. But we don’t feel as though we’re being treated like a partner in return. Bit by bit we’re losing ground. We’re losing our local control. We’re losing our financial stake in the resource activity that eats up more and more of our landscape every day.
“. . . [I]n recent years, federal and state policies have constantly chipped away [at our borough's control and local decision-making]:
It’s happening with coastal zone management, where our local program is being gutted by the state.
It’s happening with NPR-A, where sensitive habitat is being leased over our objections and legislation is introduced to take away the impact aid we were promised in federal law.
It’s happening with offshore leasing where deferral areas that were designed to protect the bowhead whale migration have been dropped.
It’s happening with state road projects on the North Slope where hundreds of miles of new roads will open up vast stretches of subsistence territory in the borough and further degrade traditional subsistence use patterns for our people.
“Mr. Chairman, our people see this pattern of taking away more and more of our local control. How are we supposed to feel? I’ll tell you one thing–people up here are not feeling like partners. Partners engage in give and take, but with this type of proposed legislation and other state actions the state is doing all the taking and people up here are doing all the giving.
“Mr. Chairman, I’m only mayor for another month, then I’m history [Mayor Ahmaogak was term-limited and his successor chosen Nov. 8]. But I’m talking to you as a mayor whose record has been pro-development. I’m just telling you what I see on the horizon. That is if these types of negotiative actions continue to flow into the NSB, our positive development posture could change.
“SB 85 is just one issue that could weaken our quality of life
. . . You already know that there’s no provision in this bill for additional fish and game enforcement or police protection to handle the additional traffic and off-road activity. The zero fiscal notes are proof of that . . . It guarantees that there will be a lot of impacts, and shows little regard for those impacts. If there was any level of commitment to protection, there would be dollars to go along with this bill.
“. . . One thing [Anaktuvuk Pass residents have] learned from generations of dependence on the caribou is that you never want to shoot into the first wave of animals coming through. If you do that, it can cause the rest of the herd to change course and all of a sudden your migration has gone somewhere else.
“You can imagine how a few inexperienced hunters wandering around the tundra at the wrong time could have a serious impact on the course of the migration and the ability of people in Anaktuvuk Pass to continue their traditional harvest.
“. . . [T]he bottom line is that it would harm us and in reality there is no adjustment or fiscal note that can fix it. Like I said, we are faced with new impacts from oil and gas development every day and this proposed bill will bring even more impacts.
“We were promised long ago that the haul road would not be used in ways that would seriously compromise the North Slope environment or the subsistence animals moving through . . . There’s nothing in this bill that offers us anything except pain and suffering.