By Jenny Neyman
Nikiski residents, elected officials and area businesses have questions, Alaska LNG project staff were in the area last week with answers. Project representatives spoke to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday and held an open house Thursday in Nikiski to give an overview of the project, update on fieldwork and outlook on the project’s timeline, as well as answer questions from the merely curious to the potentially personally affected and concerned.
“We’ve always had good turnout here in Nikiski, folks are interested in the project and they come out to talk to us about what’s going on and how the project is doing,” said Michael Nelson, socioeconomic lead for the project, speaking at the open house Thursday at the North Peninsula Recreation Center. Displays were set up around the old library, highlighting various aspects of the project, with blue-shirted project staff at the ready to answer questions or address concerns.
The maps were the most popular display, showing the currently favored route of the proposed pipeline coming from the North Slope, expected to cross Cook Inlet from near Tyonek to Nikiski. And the outline of the area proposed for the LNG plant, storage tanks and marine terminal, roughly extending west of Miller Loop Road to the shore of Cook Inlet, and from Miller Loop’s junction with the Kenai Spur Highway to the south to Salamatof Road to the north.
Scott Brown, who lives in Nikiski and Soldotna, said he thinks the project will be a needed shot in the arm for Nikiski, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the state, and doesn’t have concerns about the project itself, but is nervous about what effects it might have on the community.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit that they’re doing that. What I worry about is once you build something like that, when it matures it’s going to bring in a lot of people and crime. Anytime your have something like that, that makes money, you’re going have all the things that trail in with money,” Brown said.
Speaking at a borough assembly meeting Tuesday, Mayor Mike Navarre outlined how big of a shot the project might be locally. Of the current $45 to $65 billion cost estimate, at least $22 billion is expected to be spent on the peninsula. Nelson estimates 9,000 to 15,000 jobs being created for construction of the project and 1,000 for the operation phase — many in the Nikiski area. And Navarre said that the tax revenue to the borough could be $100 million a year, with another $110 to $120 million to the service areas in Nikiski.
“So it would be significant revenue impact to the borough. … Under any circumstances it will provide a lot of benefit and revenue to support our community and borough for well into the future. And we are perusing and doing what we can to move that project forward,” Navarre said.
Perry Solmonson and Tim Winters are neighbors in Nikiski, about two miles from the perimeter of the proposed LNG facility site. Both have some concerns, but said they’re in favor of the project at this point — especially, Solmonson said, as it could help Alaskans get access to a cheaper source of heat and electricity, with the off-take points being proposed along the 800-mile pipeline.
“What I would hope to see as a positive is that the state and people that live here from rural Alaska, mainly, get some form of relief via the project. Or if they can’t get gas or electricity to those communities, a way that money from the project will subsidize those costs. There are lots of different ways to look at it, but rural Alaska needs help big time,” Solmonson said.
He’s concerned about the effect the project might have on water, though. He works in Whittier and said he’s seen drilling operations there affect the water table.
“The homeowners who are in the project area might want to think about getting your water rights. And water rights are going to be a biggie. So concern about water, for sure — not only losing it, but obviously contamination,” he said.
Increased traffic will be another issue, Solmonson predicts.
“We have a tiny little road. You start throwing big trucks and multiple trucks and a lot of traffic it’s going to really change how things are out here,” he said.
Winters foresees a shortage of housing leading to a building boom that could result in multi-unit housing complexes crowding in around existing homes.
“We’re going to have growing pains like anywhere else. Our quiet little neighborhood will grow up, that’s inevitable,” Winters said.
All those details, and many, many more, are yet to be ironed out, as the project is a long way from the finish line. It’s currently in the pre-FEED stage, meaning Front End Engineering and design. If all goes as currently planned, fieldwork to finalize project sites, narrow cost estimates and gather the necessary data for the permitting process will continue to the second quarter of 2015. The final federal permitting application will be submitted in first quarter 2016. Construction would begin in 2018, with completion and operation still about 10 years out.
As the project progresses, Winters and his neighbors want to see that proper procedures take precedence over the pursuit of profit.
“Working in the oilfield industry I’ve learned that we can avoid things like Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez by following the protocols and procedures and make sure that everybody’s on board. Forget production, safety is first, and then we take care of the business,” Winters said.