TAC Meeting Process Ends Abruptly
(Fairbanks, Ak) The Alaska Department of Transportation has shut down communication with a committee assembled to help analyze the Manh Choh Mine ore haul route, and ended its public meeting process.
A November 15th letter from DOT Commissioner Ryan Anderson to members of the Transportation Advisory Committee or “TAC” says QUOTE: “I have asked my staff to not engage in dialogue.” DOT communications director Shannon McCarthy says the letter was prompted by a lawsuit filed by a local citizen’s group against the agency last month, aimed at stopping the ore haul.
“Several members of the TAC are involved with that litigation, so it complicated the department’s ability to participate and provide information.”
Commissioner Anderson’s letter also asks that TAC members QUOTE: “limit feedback and discussions to the identified potential impacts and alternatives to address each impact.”
The committee met Thursday for an in-person work session that the DOT initially limited to online participation. TAC and Advocates for Safe Alaska Highways member Jon Cook voiced general frustration with the agency’s recent actions.
“First of all we had the meeting being held virtual, and going through that unnecessary drama. And I don’t know why you would want to dump gasoline on a dumpster fire, but the gasoline got dumped and then we had a big blow up on that, and now we’re told in this letter what we can and can’t talk about.”
Fellow TAC member and Advocates for Safe Alaska Highways representative Jenny Campbell objected to DOT staff not answering questions.
“Its clamping down on an independent analysis and us getting information.”
The committee spent over 3 hours going through 59 alternatives addressing a wide range of issues related to safety, traffic, maintenance, and the environment along the 250-mile Alaska Richardson, Steese Highway ore haul corridor. As the TAC meeting wrapped up, contract facilitator Shelly Wade made an announcement.
“We have been given direction by DOT and need to be very clear that this will serve as our last TAC meeting and that our communications with you coming next, with individual dialogues and other things based on your input on the worksheets will be our opportunity to have that additional feedback from TAC members.”
The news didn’t go over well with some committee members, like Patrica McDonald of Healy Lake.
“This AC was developed for the purpose of us coming together as a group to look at safety and corridor concerns and is supposed to be non-biased, not driven by the state of Alaska, but the state of Alaska is driving the bus.”
There was subsequent clarification that a draft corridor action plan report will be shared with TAC members individually before its public release. Engineering consultant Randy Kinney, whose company is contracted by DOT to put together the plan, said he is ok with not having any more meetings.
“I think that we need to get this report done and I think that we have enough information from you folks to do that work.”
Kinney left open the possibility of another meeting if there’s a need. DOT’s McCarthy says it doesn’t make sense to have any more TAC meetings at this point.
“When the task is really to get that corridor action plan complete.”
A series of open houses will be held in Fairbanks, North Pole, Salcha, Delta Junction and Tok after the plan report is out. ###