Cape Blossom road work underway
After more than 30 years of discussion, the Cape Blossom road project is set to finally get underway this year.
"It's a big deal. People here have been looking for this project to be done for a long time and I'm just really, really excited it's actually becoming a reality and progress is being made," said Kotzebue City Manager Shawn Gilman. "I think that's absolutely wonderful."
The gravel road, at just over 11 miles long, would provide access from the Kotzebue Electric Association Wind Farm to Cape Blossom, which is on the coast southwest of town on the Baldwin Peninsula.
It's designed to provide two-lane, all-season access from the hub community to a coastal region that designers hope could be the future location of a deepwater port for the Northwest Arctic.
"I think that with the Arctic conditions that we're seeing right now there's a potential for a lot of traffic in and out of this region — not necessarily just for Kotzebue but for the region — and I think offering support in being available here as a resource for these activities, this benefits not only the community but the maritime industry, as well," said Gilman.
As the borough has outlined on its list of mega projects, an accessible barge landing at Cape Blossom could help alleviate some of the high costs of shipping residents in the area currently experience.
"The cost of living is substantially higher in Kotzebue than in Anchorage, and even more so in the outer villages," the borough notes. "Currently Kotzebue ... receives goods by barge and lightening service that adds significant cost to all imported goods."
The entry point to the waters outside of Kotzebue is quite shallow, meaning many larger boats cannot enter and dock in town.
In addition, the city hopes the road will provide an additional "port of refuge" for area travelers, be usable for spill response, and "assist with homeland security for monitoring activities in the Chukchi Sea and Bering Straits."
The Alaska Department of Transportation has been partnering with the trilateral committee, which consists of the Native Village of Kotzebue, Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp., and the city of Kotzebue, to evaluate the project over the last decade.
"The city has been working very, very closely with DOT on this project and they have been fantastic help with getting this project off the ground. They are really the big pushers on getting this project through," explained Gilman.
The groundwork portion of the project is estimated to cost about $34 million and be completed in three phases, the city noted. The full project total, including planning and pre-construction, should run about $44 million, according to Gilman.
Phase 1 will come in at about $5.6 million and consist of two construction seasons: November 2018 to April 2019 and November 2019 to April 2020.
According to documents provided by the city, the first phase will include an initial 8-mile ice road to Iggy Hill, where materials will be staged and crews will construct a road embankment.
Phase 2 will cost roughly $15.5 million and will continue through the winter seasons of 2020 to 2022. Crews will re-work the ice road and create the sub-base for the road, and then haul in materials needed for the following seasons.
Phase 3 is estimated to cost $13.5 million. From September 2022 to April 2023, crews will barge in bridge materials and equipment before freeze-up, and construct an ice bridge over Sadie Creek for continued work. From June through October 2023, crews will level the road, grade it, and compact it.
"As far as money goes, we have received some bond funding. We have earmarked funding available from back in the days when they still allowed earmarked funds, so we're anticipating those to come in. We have some legislative funds that are available to DOT that we're anticipating, and a general fund appropriation," said Gilman. "So, basically with all of that, that should cover the entire project [of] roughly $44 million."
Funding can fluctuate over time, she noted, though the city is hopeful it will remain intact.
"Right now with the way the moneys have been appropriated, it looks as if all our moneys are in place," she said. "Of course, you don't know year-to-year if they're going to take it away but everything should be there and available. It's coming from several different funding structures, not just one source."
The project has support from much of the local community, along with the state's congressional delegation, said Kotzebue City Mayor Gayle Ralston.
"We wanted to make sure that we emphasized to our delegation that Alaska doesn't get buried inside the numbers, but we think we're pretty safe at this point," he said. "Everything is still looking strong and good."
Ralston said he anticipates the project will also bring much-needed jobs to the region — possibly as many as 45 to 75, if project estimates remain as they are.
Work will begin this summer with stockpiling material pre-construction.
"As I understand, the schedule is supposed to be based on getting it started this year to get the aggregate material into Kotzebue and to get the gravel pad and the landfill complete and construct a winter haul road and haul the stockpile to the landfill area. That is what will be done this year. At least through this winter season, that's what we plan to do," said Gilman. "It's going to take about five seasons to get this complete. We've been working on all the proper permitting with everybody that's necessary. We've been dealing with bridge access, utility easements, land transfers, and doing all the maintenance and management agreements these past few months."
It's a project a long time in the making. Ideas for a road from Kotzebue to Cape Blossom began in the early 1980s with the goal of accessing coal resources at Chicago Creek, according to DOT. After a series of studies, an alternate route going more directly to Cape Blossom became the focus. The first feasibility analysis for a deepwater port there was released in 1983.
The project ended up on ice through much of the late 1980s and through the 1990s, resurfacing as a serious consideration in the early 2000s, when federal funding first became available for a road project in the area. According to DOT, a reconnaissance study for the road was completed in 2011 and the project was given the go-ahead to continue.
Since then, stakeholders have worked to complete environmental reviews, develop more concrete plans, and finish studying potential impacts of the road, which will cross many sensitive areas, like wetlands.
"A lot of people have put effort into this, a lot of city council members, local leaders, citizens, which is what makes this community work, everybody working together," said Ralston.
While development of a port, or spur roads to housing areas — which has also been discussed in the past — and other lands, is likely more than five years out, the potential for benefits is still very much there, should the road be constructed as planned, said Gilman.
"I think that the opportunities will come through infrastructure expansion and improvements, things like that. That's what I think will be the benefit for the community here," she said. "I just think this is a fantastic project and I'm really happy to see that something that has been envisioned for so long is actually becoming a reality. I think that is absolutely wonderful."
More information about the project can be found at www.nwabor.org/about/projects/ or dot.alaska.gov/nreg/capeblossomroad.