Haines Borough’s attempt to save Porcupine Trail Road from the ever-changing Klehini River entered a new phase this week when planning commissioners discussed a number of proposed solutions to the road’s frequent flooding and damage.

ProHNS engineer Chris Bydlon presented five alternatives to the commission, but asked the body not to make a formal recommendation until the contractor and borough staff gathered more information and developed their ideas.

The seven-mile Porcupine Road, which skirts the Klehini’s southern bank, suffered damage during the December 2020 storm that caused boroughwide landslides and flooding. Since then the extent of damage has grown, public facilities director Ed Coffland said. The borough had to hire a contractor four times this year alone to repair flood damage, Coffland told the CVN. He said in the past four years that has occurred only once or twice a year.

Possible solutions to the road’s erosion, potholes and washouts — as devised by proHNS — include raising the road and creating a riverside barrier with riprap or wood, constructing a new three-mile-long “bypass” road above the Klehini floodplain, abandoning the road and upgrading Sunshine Mountain Road and dredging a channel in the center of the Klehini to redirect it away from the road.

Coffland said FEMA originally identified a 680-foot stretch of road where the washout occurred in 2020. After more storms and flooding, borough staff have determined about 2,770 feet now need repair. “We believe FEMA will pay for that,” Coffland told the planning commission, adding that borough staff recently heard from the state that FEMA’s project requirements for reimbursement might be more flexible than previously thought.

ProHNS identified the options involving road realignment with protective riprap or woody debris as the “least cost alternatives” and the bypass road and Sunshine Mountain upgrade ideas as the “most effective long-term solutions.” The dredging option placed last in proHNS’ scoring matrix, due to its high estimated cost, permitting hurdles and long timeline. Planning commissioner Richard Clement recommended throwing that idea out, and facilities director Coffland agreed that “it does not appear to be a good alternative.”

While commissioners didn’t take action, two of them — Clement and Don Turner Jr. — intimated a preference for the bypass road, if the borough could afford it. “Mother nature is hard to control. If you can get away from that, it would be a 40- to 50-year deal (where) you wouldn’t have to concern yourself with the river,” Turner Jr. said.

Commission chair Diana Lapham showed interest in a shorter bypass combined with the road realignment and riprap barrier idea, and commissioner Justin Mitman said he liked the realignment with either a riprap or woody debris barrier. Commissioner Rob Goldberg didn’t express a preference during the discussion but told the CVN the bypass road “could be a long-term solution, but there will be concerns about habitat destruction and cost.” And he said lining the road with rocks or wood would be a “temporary repair” due to the river’s dynamic nature.

“My main takeaway from the presentation was the cost of all of the options,” Goldberg said in an email. “The damaged section of road is less than 700 feet long. Why will it cost $8 million or more to fix this?”

In a memo prepared for the planning commission, proHNS engineers said given the Klehini’s force and constantly evolving flow patterns, “performing temporary or emergency repairs to protect and restore Porcupine Trail Road should not be considered a viable (or economical) long-term solution.”

Bydlon agreed with commissioners that moving the road out of the floodplain would be the best long-term solution but said the bypass “has the most unknowns” of any of the alternatives and determining its path through the forest would require surveying and geotechnical studies.

He said proHNS’ 30-year cost estimate for the bypass is $10.4 million, with construction completed by fall 2025. The company’s cost estimate for road realignment with a riprap barrier is $8.8 million; $7.8 million for the same project with woody debris instead of riprap; and $15.5 million for the Sunshine Mountain Road upgrade, with completion by fall 2024.

Takshanuk Watershed Council executive director Derek Poinsette said in a letter to the planning commission that the organization supports upgrading Sunshine Mountain Road as a solution because it “would minimize impacts to fisheries and aquatic resources” and, Poinsette argued, would be less expensive to maintain in the long term.

He said Takshanuk opposed the bypass road idea due to concern it “would have serious impacts to one of the most important chum spawning habitats in the entire watershed.” A proHNS conceptual drawing of a bypass road shows it uphill from Herman Creek, a chum spawning ground.

A complication with the Sunshine upgrade idea is that the borough doesn’t own that road, borough planner Dave Long said.

Tom Morphet gave public comment at the planning commission meeting urging borough officials not to spend money on Porcupine Road. “The road to Porcupine is through Sunshine Mountain. The primary beneficiaries of Porcupine Road — that goes through the Klehini River floodplain — are multinational businesses that make a lot of money, and why the taxpayers are subsidizing those businesses by expending public money on a secondary road is beyond me.”

The road is used by local miners, loggers, subsistence users and recreationists as well as for access to the exploratory mining operation at the Palmer Project and by Raw TV for its Discovery Channel show “Gold Rush: White Water.”

Commissioner Mitman offered a different perspective than Morphet on use of the road. “I use it in the winter. I hunt grouse in the fall. I camp at 3 Mile in the summer. And I think I’m not the only one who uses that. I think it’s not just for a mine. This is a borough road that people use,” Mitman said.

The borough assembly approved spending $30,000 on routine maintenance for Porcupine Road this year.

*This article originally misstated the first name of proHNS engineer Chris Bydlon.