Bill to exempt Alaska from ‘roadless rule’ stalls in Congress

JUNEAU, Alaska — A bill that would allow roads to be built to proposed mines on Prince of Wales Island hasn’t budged from a U.S. Senate committee since its introduction earlier this year.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would exempt Alaska from the U.S. Forest Service’s so-called “roadless rule,” which limits road construction in designated areas of public land. Similar past legislation has also stalled.

Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell toured parts of the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska with Murkowski in August. He told reporters at the time that the government must provide reasonable access when there’s a valid right, like a mining right. He also said there are exemptions within the roadless rule but did not say how or whether those might be used to allow for building roads in this case.

The Forest Service is expected to weigh in on the Tongass five-year plan soon, the Juneau Empire reported.

Supporters of the roadless rule say it’s important for conservation efforts in designated wilderness areas. Critics say the rule inhibits resource development.

“We will not be able to build these projects if it means that you can only do construction by helicopter,” Murkowski said in a statement last week. “It’s possible to do, but it is not economically feasible and this is something that the chief of the Forest Service should understand.”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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