The Army Corps of Engineers held a meeting Thursday in Fairbanks to hear input on a new plan for the proposed Alaska Standalone Pipeline. It was the third of 10 such meetings the agency is conducting in communities along the route of the 733-mile-long pipeline the state wants to build to bring natural gas from the North Slope to the Interior and Southcentral Alaska.
About 20 people showed up at the Westmark Hotel downtown for a meeting intended to gather public comments on the proposed $10 billion Alaska Standalone Pipeline, or ASAP. But only one person commented about concerns over the project enabling greater access into Native lands.
“One of the issues that we’re always faced with is, when new access is opened up, are issues about trespass and user conflicts,” Fairbanks resident Bob Sattler officials with the Army Corps of Engineers who are conducting meetings in communities on or near the pipeline route.
“Some of the concerns that I’ve heard is that the corridor, especially in the eastern Minto Flats, could certainly open up a larger volume of traffic,” he said.
Sattler said he works for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, but added he was speaking for himself at the meeting, not the TCC. He says he only offered the comment to point out his concern over increased access, which could create “user conflicts” and diminish availability of wildlife and other subsistence resources.
He added his comments aren’t meant to convey any opposition to the project.
“Y’know, why isn’t this thing already built, with all the discussions that have gone on the last 10 or 15 years?”
It may seem that way, because ASAP has already had gone through the whole public-comment process required by the National Environmental Policy Act, resulting in a final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, being issued in 2012.
But the project ground to a halt over the next couple of years, as state revenues dried up due to plummeting oil prices, which sent the economy into a tailspin. Two years later, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. proposed changes in the original ASAP plan, which required the state-supported corporation to again seek public comment and review as part of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process.
“The application had substantial changes that we felt warranted enough of a change to the original project that we need to re-evaluate the decision that had been made during the final EIS review,” said Sandy Gibson, the Corps of Engineers’ ASAP project manager charged with ensuring the streamlined version of the original plan complies with federal regulations.
“So that’s what this Supplemental EIS is focused on are those changes in the project – such as subtle changes in the alignment, reductions of infrastructure, than what was proposed in the Final EIS,” said Gibson, who works in the Corps’ Anchorage office.
The changes include increasing the size of the pipeline from 24 to 36 inches in diameter, and shortening by four miles the 12-inch pipe that’ll branch off the main line and bring gas into Fairbanks. The revised plan includes an alternative that would route the pipeline through the eastern edge of Denali National Park and Preserve.
Bear Ketlzer, who was raised in Nenana and now lives in Fairbanks, said he believes the changes will move the project forward so it can finally provide a cheaper and cleaner source of energy for Fairbanks and smaller communities along the route.
“Rural Alaska struggles with energy. That’s one of the biggest factors,” Ketzler said in an interview after the meeting. He said he’ll add further written comments suggesting additional facilities to make more gas available to communities along the pipeline route, and to enable gas to be uploaded into the pipe from natural gas deposits that native corporations are exploring around the Interior.
Gibson says the Corps of Engineers conducted two meetings earlier this week in Utqiagvik and Nuiqsut. She says on Friday they’ll hold meetings in Minto and Tanana, and next week in Wiseman, Coldfoot and Bettles before heading south for meetings in Healy, Cantwell, Trapper Creek and Anchorage.
Editor's note: Comments on the revised ASAP proposal must be submitted to the Corps of Engineers no later than Aug. 14. If the project gains final approval and funding, construction could begin in 2019 and if all goes well delivery of gas could begin by 2023.