State funds ASTAR; project would study Arctic infrastructure needs
The state of Alaskaís capital budget which Gov. Bill Walker signed on July 31 includes $7.3 million dollars for the Arctic Strategic Transportation and Resource project. The ASTAR project is a new program being run by Alaskaís Division of Mining, Land and Water to plan transportation improvements on the North Slope, with the objectives of better connecting the villages in the region and of encouraging resource development.
In May, during the stateís legislative session, Andrew T. Mack, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, wrote to the House Finance Committee, explaining his views on the importance of the ASTAR program.
A three-year effortASTAR is a three-year planning effort which will demonstrate how the needs of Arctic communities can be balanced with responsible resource development. The plan will set the framework for community interconnectivity and responsible resource development in the region, Mack said.
The plan will address deficiencies in the Department of the Interiorís current plans for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Mack said. These federal plans are designed to appease special interest groups in the Lower 48, either by blocking resource development or by imposing limitations that make resource development uneconomic, he said. In May Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order requiring BLM to prepare a schedule for revising the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan. The concept for ASTAR includes the production of a document that can provide guidance to the Bureau of Land Management, as the state assists BLM it its plan rewrite, Mack said. Mack stressed the importance of starting the planning effort as soon as possible, given that the opportunity to achieve ASTARís goals may expire during the 2020 election cycle in three years time.
Community supportMack commented that, prior to requesting state funding for the ASTAR project, he had ensured that the North Slope communities support the project. DNR had been communicating with the communities, listening to their concerns and their vision for the North Slope region while also conveying DNRís concepts, he said.
In May Harry Brower, mayor of the North Slope Borough, wrote to state legislators in support of the ASTAR project. A joint planning effort between the borough, DNR and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has made real progress in developing the North Slope communities, Brower said. The ASTAR plan represents the vision of the future for the communities and is the foundation for a meaningful dialogue between federal, state and local stakeholders, he said. Improved transportation arrangements on the North Slope will lower the cost of living through the development of permanent and seasonal roads, Brower said. Resource development planning is also vital to sustaining the states budget, he said. Brower also commented on the importance of using local knowledge and experience in planning decisions.
Mack emphasized the importance of engaging North Slope communities and corporations in the planning effort. Upon confirmation of funding for the project, DNR will initiate scoping meetings in communities, to gain an understanding of community needs, opportunities and issues, he said. The ASTAR project will also require the hiring of long-term but non-permanent staff and contractors. The department will hire consultants to investigate resource potential in the region; analyze transportation route corridors; identify habitat and cultural concerns; and complete social and economic studies, Mack said.
- ALAN BAILEY