Public Comments Requested On a Proposal to Install a Fiber Optic Cable in the Parks Highway Right-of-Way through Denali National Park
Contact: Kris Fister, 907-683-9583
The National Park Service (NPS) is requesting comments on a proposal by GCI, Inc. to install a fiber optic cable within the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT) George Parks Highway right-of-way (ROW) that passes through the eastern portion of Denali National Park and Preserve for approximately six miles. The cable would be part of a GCI line under construction between Wasilla and Fairbanks that will provide additional communications (voice data, video) capacity and backup to the existing GCI line between Anchorage and Fairbanks through Whittier and Valdez. Completing the loop would prevent an outage at one point in the loop from interrupting service. The ADOT has a 300’ wide easement through the park “for highway purposes,” so both ADOT and the NPS would need to approve the request for the utility installation.
The proposal by GCI involves three types of installation along the western side of the highway. The cable, within a 1 ½ inch conduit, would be placed under the Mile 237.5 railroad crossing via directional drilling; a directionally-drilled conduit already exists under Riley Creek near the highway bridge. The rest of the installation would be either in the bottom of the road ditch or at the bottom of the fill slope of the road. Where the edge of the road meets wetlands, GCI would use a ditchwitch during the winter to dig a seven- inch wide trench for the cable. Installation in frozen ground would keep the trench from collapsing during installation and limit any soil and vegetation damage. During the summer, GCI would use a backhoe to dig a narrow trench for the cable where the road edge meets better drained soils, or where there is a maintained ditch. ADOT has requested that the cable be buried to 4 feet of depth.
All of the impacts would be within the ADOT George Parks Highway ROW. Maintenance of the road, road ditch, back slopes and fill slopes is the responsibility of ADOT and is authorized by their easement. Any vegetation in the ditch or on the fill slope is subject to ADOT brushing at any time for the purpose of maintaining the road.
The NPS is considering authorizing the GCI request as a categorically excluded action, which means that no environmental assessment or environmental impact statement would be prepared as part of the evaluation of the proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act. Categorically excluded actions are those that under normal circumstances are not considered major federal actions and that have no measurable impacts on the human environment. The NPS considers the proposed route for the cable to be on ground previously disturbed during highway construction, and where continuing maintenance of the highway facility will bring additional periodic disturbance. The specific Categorical Exclusion proposed to be used is #3.4C (15): Installation of underground utilities in areas showing clear evidence of recent human disturbance or areas within an existing road prism or within an existing overhead utility right-of-way. The Corps of Engineers is considering authorizing this project under a Clean Water Act Section 404 Nationwide Permit.
Comments on the use of this Categorical Exclusion to approve this project will be accepted until Friday, December 14, 2007. If you would like to comment in writing on the project, please submit your comments in to Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755. Comments may faxed to (907) 683-9612, or e-mail us.
The NPS will make a decision about the proposal soon after the close of the public comment period.
If you have any questions about the project, please call the Superintendent’s office at (907) 683-9581 or the park’s Compliance Program Manager, Steve Carwile, at (907) 644-3612.
Did You Know?
Warmer average temperatures over several decades have resulted in expansion of woody vegetation. If this warming trend continues, it will change Alaska's ecosystems and drastically alter the physical appearance of Denali's landscape, as treeline marches higher up the mountains.