Grading and other improvements to Porcupine Road started last week following increased agitation by commercial businesses and property owners requesting repairs.
Porcupine Road, which splits off of Haines Highway at 26 Mile, extends eight miles into a mining and logging district where Constantine Metal Resources and other firms operate.
Haines Borough public facilities director Carlos Jimenez said the project has been on the borough’s radar for several years, but recent visits from several users including Delta Western, who complained the road is so potholed as to prevent its fuel trucks from serving the businesses up there, prompted the borough to take action.
“It’s one of those roads that if you don’t have people calling to gripe at you about it, it doesn’t stay on the front burner,” Jimenez said.
Whiterock LLC is performing roughly $8,000 in grading and improvements to an area of the road at risk for wash-out, Jimenez said. Jimenez acquired permits from the Department of Fish and Game to place riprap along the bank for the area in question.
Southeast Roadbuilders, owned by Roger Schnabel, is providing 80 yards of fill for the project at half-price ($12.50 per yard instead of $24.50) as a contribution to the road’s maintenance. The Schnabel family owns the Big Nugget Mine located near the end of Porcupine Road.
Assistant to the borough manager Darsie Culbeck has been soliciting contributions in the form of cash, equipment or material from businesses that would benefit from the road upgrades, said manager Mark Earnest.
Culbeck recently began working as camp manager for Constantine and is performing “some work, but limited hours” for the borough, Earnest said.
Earnest said Culbeck’s dual employment had nothing to do with the project being jump-started this summer, and that it didn’t occur to him that Culbeck’s simultaneous work for Constantine and the borough might foster the perception of questionable influence or pressure.
“We’re driving that; that’s not (Culbeck). I really want to stress that. We’ve been working on this long before (Culbeck) came on board and long before he started working for Constantine... He is trying to find some financing opportunities, but that’s the extent of that,” Earnest said.
Earnest pointed to a borough funding request to the Alaska Legislature several years ago which listed Porcupine Road as a priority for road maintenance. The borough received $4.5 million to put toward roads it listed in the request, including Porcupine Road, Chilkat Lake Road, and Third Avenue.
Culbeck this week said the requests from Schnabel, Delta Western, Discovery Channel and others are what is driving the project right now. “From what I understand, the improvements to the Porcupine Road have been on the list for several years.”
Culbeck recently traveled up the Haines Highway with Department of Transportation representatives Andy Hughes and Murray Walsh when the two were in town for a public meeting.
Hughes said the group tried to access Porcupine Road, but it was still snowed in. They discussed the Roads to Resources program potential for the road, among other DOT issues, Hughes said.
The DOT Roads to Resources initiative is intended to improve access to natural resource deposits around the state.
Earnest said the group discussed whether the road might qualify for Roads to Resources funding in the future.
“We asked if that might be possible to have incorporated into a future Roads to Resources program, which would potentially bring state and federal dollars into an upgrade,” Earnest said.
Jimenez said Tuesday the grading and improvements should be completed in the next several days, but that doesn’t mean the project is finished. “Just because we bladed it once doesn’t mean it is going to be forever fixed. It’s going to need to be maintained,” he said.