Alaska Railroad Herbicide Permit Hearing

Read RDC's Comment Letter

August 12, 2009
Anchorage, Alaska

Deantha Crockett's testimony

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment today. My name is Deantha Crockett, and I am a projects coordinator at the Resource Development Council in Anchorage. RDC is a statewide business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism, and fisheries industries. RDC’s membership includes Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

Today I am asking you to approve the permit application by the Alaska Railroad Corporation to use herbicides for vegetation management between Indian and Seward. The Railroad is responsible for over 650 miles of track in our state, and the maintenance of this track is imperative to keep employees and the general public safe. Despite attempts to keep the track clear of vegetation without chemicals, excessive growth between Indian and Seward has prompted the Federal Railroad Administration to demand an improved management plan from the Railroad, or risk having operations curtailed and possibly shut down. Between 1997 and 2008, the FRA issued 947 defects and 74 violations for safety issues related to vegetation growth. So far in 2009, the FRA has issued an additional 497 defects and 123 violations for the same concerns. All of these violations come with hefty fines and threats of track closures and speed limits, which ultimately affect the Railroad’s customers. While the FRA acknowledges the Railroad’s efforts to control the problem without herbicides, the risks of derailments, obstructions of view, and slip and fall hazards are too great to not require an improvement in vegetation management.

With these recurring violations and threats of stopped operations, it is imperative the Railroad be permitted to implement an effective management solution. Their plan to apply a water-approved herbicide has been evaluated by a University of Alaska research team and has been proven to have no adverse effects on fish, wildlife, or humans. The herbicide is regulated by federal agencies and the application of the chemicals will be conducted by licensed and experienced contractors.

The Alaska Railroad employs over 700 people year-round, transports over 540,000 passengers and hauls over 6 millions tons of freight each year. The safe movement of these trains is the number one factor in implementing a vegetation management program. The Railroad has conducted a thorough analysis of all management options and has presented ADEC with a responsible plan to address the problem. It is for these reasons RDC encourages ADEC to approve the Railroad’s permit application as soon as possible.

RDC will also be submitting written comment on this important issue. Thank you again for the opportunity to do so.