Noatak to Delong Mountain Transportation System (DMTS) Connector Road
At this time, the Noatak to DMTS Connector Road is the only transportation project in Noatak that will advance through the pre-scoping process as part of the PEL. At a minimum, the analysis will include a project description, purpose, need, study area, list of potential environmental impacts, range of alternatives, concept level engineering, cost estimate, gaps assessment, and any other pertinent information.
Noatak to DMTS Connector Road Background
The project would construct an all-season access road from a point south of the Noatak K-12 Napaaqtugmiut School and would intersect with the DMTS Road at a location still to be determined. The DMTS Road begins at the DMTS Port Site and ends at the Red Dog Mine. Any point along this road could serve as a logical terminus for the project. The connector road would be capable of supporting commercial freight carriers between the DMTS Road and Noatak. The connector road would provide a surface connection to many trails and would facilitate access to traditional subsistence, native allotments, recreation areas, private lands, and possibly to the Cape Krusenstern National Monument (CKNM).
Noatak to DMTS Connector Road Purpose
By increasing the resiliency and modal functionality of Noatak’s transportation system, the Noatak to DMTS Connector Road would promote opportunities for economic development, facilitate outcomes that lead to a lower cost of living, mitigate the high costs of shipping freight, and foster formation of a safe and sustainable community.
Noatak to DMTS Connector Road Need
Noatak is one of the most isolated communities in the nation. It is not connected to any other community by road. People travel by boat, plane, snowmachine, and dog team while depending entirely on air transport for all fuel, cargo, construction materials, and other commodities. Therefore, Noatak’s isolation comes with a prohibitive cost of living. Gasoline and heating oil prices range from $10.00 to $15.00 per gallon. Barge service to Noatak was suspended along the Noatak River in 1992 due to inadequate channel depth. There is also no road overland access to a barge landing or port site on the Chukchi Sea.
Noatak residents face various ongoing and upcoming challenges such as the rising costs of living coupled with decreasing levels of public funding availability, impacts of climate change, and pressures on subsistence resources. Despite these challenges, people in Noatak stay in the village cemented in place by expensive at-risk infrastructure such as the K-12 school, water/sewage treatment plant, and fuel tanks. The impact of even one changing variable, such as increasing temperatures, on one mode of transportation, such as winter trails, is difficult to analyze. Warmer temperatures cause a loss of overland winter transportation, which is challenging to quantify in terms of human safety, construction, and subsistence. In summary, Noatak’s transportation system is tenuous.
The Noatak River has created isolated areas of erosion damage on the western banks near existing infrastructure. The most aggressive erosion is near the middle of the current airport where more than 1,000 feet of land has eroded between the runway and the river leaving 300 feet left. The erosion is forcing the relocation of the cemetery, sewage lagoon, and access road. The main factor of this is river erosion exacerbated by presence of ice rich permafrost, but other factors include fall flooding, spring break up, natural river flow, and resident use.
The housing situation in Noatak is inadequate. There are 124 local home structures in Noatak for residents of which 11 are log cabins, and four are unlivable and structurally unsound. Of the 109 remaining, many are unfit and in need of maintenance. Most households have two to four generations of people living in one structure. It is common to have five to fourteen people living under one roof . Contractors must transport construction materials in airplanes resulting in construction that is so prohibitively expensive that projects do not start.
An enhanced multi-modal transportation system may decrease the cost of shipping freight, allowing construction of planned local infrastructure improvements, new housing development, and housing rehabilitation. Quality material is needed for such development but is available inland between Noatak and the DMTS Road as well as along the DMTS Road.
The Red Dog Mine provides an economic boost to the economy of Noatak. Currently, workers from Noatak must stay at the Red Dog Mine for two week rotations where having a road would provide workers with direct transit access to the mine allowing workers to carry out subsistence activities during their off hours. Having road access to a second airport improves safety both for Red Dog Mine and Noatak which enables direct access and support during times of airport maintenance, weather, or other emergencies.
Considering Noatak’s lack of a multi-modal transportation system, it becomes apparent that Noatak needs an all-season transportation link to marine shipping network. An all-season access road would facilitate lower freight costs and provide modal connectivity for barges thereby improving access and efficiency for transportation of freight and other commodities to Noatak.
Three preliminary route options, and a No Action Alternative, are being evaluated in the Noatak PEL for the Noatak to DMTS Connector Road. New construction routes vary between 22 and 37 miles. Combined route lengths from Noatak to the DMTS Port Site via the DMTS Road vary between 39 and 59 miles (Figure 1).
Alternative A: Alternative A begins slightly south of the Noatak K-12 school and passes north above the CKNM boundary connecting to the DMTS Road at mile marker 29.6. This route passes through NANA Regional Corporation (NANA) land and state lands. The distance from Noatak to the DMTS Road is 29.5 miles. The combined distance from Noatak to the DMTS Port Site using Alternative A is 59 miles. Preliminary estimates indicate a starting elevation of 87 feet, an ending elevation 540 feet, a maximum elevation of 1,043 feet, and 6 major water crossings.
Alternative B: Alternative B loosely follows the NWAB winter snowmachine trail and is the most direct route to the DMTS Road connecting at ‘Pit 6’. Starting south of the Noatak K-12 school, Alternative B is 22 miles long. Nine miles of the route crosses the CKNM and an additional 7 miles crosses land managed by BLM. The distance from ‘Pit 6’ to the DMTS Road is 1.7 miles and from there to the Port Site is 18.7 miles. The combined distance to the DMTS Port Site is 42.4 miles. The route passes through land owned by NANA, BLM, National Park Service, and some state lands. Preliminary estimates indicate a starting elevation of 87 feet, an ending elevation of 531 feet, a maximum elevation of 958 feet, and 2 major water crossings.
Alternative C: Alternative C is the most direct route to the DMTS Port Site. Starting south of the Noatak K-12 school, the route turns slightly northwest around the planned relocation of the Noatak Airport. It then extends southwest along the Alutunitok Hills before heading west through the CKNM directly to the Port Site. While the new construction is the longest at 37.4 miles long, the distance from the DMTS Road to the DMTS Port Site is only 2.4 miles. The overall distance to the DMTS Port Site is the shortest at 39.8 miles. This route passes through NANA lands, National Park Service, BLM, and state lands. Preliminary estimates indicate a starting elevation 80 feet, an ending elevation of 191 feet, a maximum elevation of 640 feet and 5 major water crossings. No Action: The No Action Alternative evaluates what would occur if no road is built. The No Action Alternative provides a baseline for comparison to the other alternatives.
Alternative D: Alternative D has been considered by the Noatak IRA Council members for years to be the most promising route to get to the DMTS Road. Like Alternative C, it starts south of the Noatak K-12 school and turns slightly northwest around the planned relocation of the Noatak Airport. From there the route continues northwest, crosses Rabbit Creek, and goes through the Tahinichok Mountains. After 21.9 miles of new construction, the route intersects a pit along the DMTS Road. From the pit to the DMTS Port is 13.5 miles of existing road. The total distance of Alternative D is 35.4 miles. This route passes through NANA lands, NPS, BLM, and state lands. Preliminary estimates indicate a starting elevation 80 feet, an ending elevation of 87 feet, a maximum elevation of 1103 feet, and 2 major water crossings.