Kenai Borough seeks to skip EIS for North Road Extension
The Kenai Peninsula Borough is taking steps to extend the North Road past its end at the Captain Cook State Recreation Area.
The borough administration is pursuing a scaled-down version of the original North Road Extension Project plan, which was to build out the road to Point Possession, about 26 miles.
Officials are now chasing a categorical exclusion for the proposed downsized 4-mile extension from the road’s current terminus. A categorical exclusion from the Federal Highway Administration would allow the project to move forward without a costly environmental impact statement.
While Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander updated Nikiski residents in mid-August at the Nikiski Community Council meeting, saying the borough has received verbal non-objections to the project from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, it is in the process of seeking letters from the agencies.
If the agencies supply letters of non-objection to the borough, the Department of Transportation would then request the categorical exclusion from the Federal Highway Administration.
A concept plan for the proposed project has also been drafted, which Ostrander plans to present to all of the agencies along with the estimated cost of the 4-mile project, which he received Aug. 15. Ostrander did not have a dollar amount readily available for the Clarion Aug. 18, but he said the cost is within the funds available.
The plan proposes two typical 14-foot top road sections — one for the upland areas and one for the wetland areas. The upland areas would use geotextile as a sub-base for the gravel. In the marshy areas geogrid, a grid-patterned material, would be used, which, Ostrander said, distributes the gravel weight more effectively in wetland areas.
At the meeting, Ostrander said pullouts would be constructed every 0.25 miles.
“Unless we enter an area that has a lot of curves or hills where the sight distances are very short, then we’ll try to put in those pullouts in areas that are convenient for folks to pass,” he said.
Any construction on the road is at least a year out, Ostrander said. However, because the borough has never gone through the process to get a categorical exclusion, putting a timeline on the project is difficult.
At the meeting, some area property owners expressed interest in a parking lot at the end of the road, a concept that was not included in the plan. However, Ostrander said it is something the borough will pursue in the project.
“How that’s going to work, I don’t know,” he said. “A parking lot within the existing right-of-way wouldn’t be sufficient for what they need it for so … the identification of what land that would be built on is something that needs to be done.”
Also at the meeting, residents expressed concern about the possible closure of Jacob’s Ladder Drive, which provides beach access. Ostrander said if possible, the administration would like to maintain beach access in that area via Jacob’s Ladder or another route.
In 1996 the borough received $6 million in federal dollars earmarked for the North Road Extension project, of which about $5 million remain following a mid-2000s environmental assessment. The assessment determined an EIS was necessary, which would cost more than what remained for the project.
“That’s the reason that the original scope of work wasn’t feasible because they determined that an environmental impact statement is necessary for the entire 26 miles of road,” he said. “That environmental impact statement would have eaten up all of the federal earmark that we have.”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.