Earlier this month, part of the Porcupine Road sloughed off into the Klehini River. At that time, a few weeks ago, the borough ordered emergency repairs on the section that washed away. But the incident has begged a bigger question: Should the borough continue to maintain the road?
There are a lot of stakeholders that use the Porcupine Road. The gravel route branches off the Haines Highway about 25 miles from town. Users include mining and exploration operations, loggers, hunters, berry pickers, hikers and bikers. Earlier this month, when part of the road washed away, about three miles from the Klehini River Bridge, the borough fixed it, but they’ve posted a warning. The notice says that the road could be subject to spontaneous closures if it starts eroding again. Brad Ryan is the Director of Public Facilities for the Haines Borough. He says the road is currently in good shape.
“It’s actually in better shape than it’s been in a long time, but we also know that there’s one section about 500 yards downstream of what we just repaired where if the river comes up and decides to start eroding that away, it potentially could do the same thing it did earlier,” Ryan says.
The issue was broached at this week’s assembly meeting when manager Bill Seward questioned how much the borough should invest in the road’s upkeep.
“I may end up coming before you guys about whether or not we want to maintain that road,” Seward says. “It doesn’t have a lot of return on investment right now. So, it’s possible the stakeholders could become involved; we’re just going to have to wait and see.”
Darsie Culbeck works for one of those stakeholders. Constantine Metal Resources houses its seasonal basecamp near the end of the road.
“We’re certainly cognizant that the road had been washed out a bit and that money had been spent on it, and over the years that’s happened a few times,” he says. “We’ve always worked with the borough to contribute funds and in-kind work to clear ditches and clear trees. So, we’ve been contributing, as have a lot of the other users out here.”
Facilities director Ryan says if the road were to wash out, and become impassable, it’s probably not something that would happen all at once. There would be a little warning.
“Even when we felt like it was an emergency fix, you could still drive around it,” Ryan says. “The reason for the emergency fix was that the road, if you came around it, especially at night, and weren’t aware of it, you could have easily went right in the river.”
There is a way around the eroding spot, but it’s up and over Sunshine Mountain on a rougher, winding path. That might be OK for ATVs and pickup trucks, but some of the bigger fuel and logging trucks might not be able to maneuver the alternative path.
Updates on the condition of the road and closures will be posted on the borough’s website at hainesalaska.gov.