A bridge being built across the Nenana River will open up access to long sought after state agricultural lands.
The bridge from the city of Nenena will stretch across the river in two concrete spans totaling over 450 feet, providing a road link to tens of thousands of acres of prime growing land.
City of Nenana Mayor Jason Mayrand traces the access project back to the 1980’s, when Alaska was looking to make it big in farming. "Originally it was intended to correspond with the project in Delta and down by Eielson with the farm developments, but it never really came to fruition here," he said.
Failure of the Delta Agriculture Project chilled state interest in farming at Nenana, but Mayrand says local support has remained, and changes in the food industry have elevated the area's potential. "There's a lot of interest in disease free and organic products," he said. "And this area being disease free, obviously, since it's never had any agricultural products on it, bodes well for organic growth."
The Nenana agriculture project got back on track with Alaska voters approval of $6.5 million for the bridge, as part of a 2012 statewide bond package. Mayrand says work has already been done on the far side of the river in anticipation of the bridge opening up access.
"Right now we've got about 12 or 14 miles of road constructed West. We've been working on it over the last several years. I think the road goes all the way into the agricultural development property. We're working with the state of Alaska to get it up for auction so it can be sold," Mayrand said.
There are 130,000 acres of state classified agriculture lands across the river from Nenana. Alaska Department of Natural Resources the Division of Agriculture Specialist, Daniel Proulx points to soil survey work that shows the land to be some of the best in Alaska for farming.
"The land would be good for whatever we can grow in Alaska. It has, by most accounts, better soil than the Delta area, has a longer growing season. So grasses, vegetables, root crops; pretty much anything you can grow in interior Alaska will do well out there," he said.
Proulx says there’s always been interest in the land, and with the bridge in the works, and the state anticipating selling parcels, inquiries have heightened.
"Matter of fact, I had a call yesterday, somebody wanting to know 'what size tracts are you going to sell'. We're going to have a variety. We're going to have some of the smaller 40-acres near the right of ways, near the roads, and behind it have bigger, up to 3,000 acre tracts for cattle producers for feed lots and for hay and barley operations.”
Proulx says decisions on land sales will follow appraisals and public input. The area across the river also has other resource development potential. It includes parcels owned by the University of Alaska, the Tanana Valley State Forest, Alaska Mental Health Trust, and Doyon, where the Regional Native Corporation is exploring for oil and gas. The plan calls for contractor HC to have the bridge ready for use by late winter 2015.