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By Dan Rudy 

WCA hosts transportation program workshop

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Attendees to the 2016 AKTTAP & FHWA Tribal Transportation Program Workshop are shown Shtax Heen Circle, one of Wrangell Cooperative Association Transportation's repaving projects. Representatives from a number of federal, tribal, state and local bodies participated in the four-day conference, which focused on transportation and access issues.

The Nolan Center was the site of a four-day workshop on tribal transportation last week, held collaboratively by the Alaska Tribal Technical Assistance Program Center (AKTTAP) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

The Transportation office of Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCAT) hosted the event, which drew state, federal, tribal and municipal personnel.

"Each of them presented a different opportunity for collaborative work," said Bill Willard, WCAT manager.

Held previously in Juneau and Petersburg, the annual transportation workshop is an opportunity to discuss common priorities and exchange ideas. Hosting the event gave WCAT an opportunity to bring current and potential partners up to speed with Wrangell's program.

The WCAT program has been developing over the past decade, with a focus on maintaining and improving accessways for tribal members. Locally, the program covers community roads with relevance to daily needs such as subsistence use and public safety. It has partnered with pertinent local and federal authorities on projects like the Nemo Loop Road resurfacing and Shtax Heen Circle paving and may eventually collaborate with the state DOT as well on future undertakings.

"We're trying to head in that direction," said Willard. "There are opportunities we can work together."

Representatives from transportation programs for other tribes in the region participated in the workshop, and administrators invited to attend included FHWA Tribal Transportation Program director Bob Sparrow, United States Forest Service Tongass supervisor Earl Stewart, Alaska Department of Transportation commissioner Marc Luiken, Alaska FHWA division administrator Sandra Garcia-Aline, and Wrangell Public Works director Amber Al-Haddad. Council members with WCA were also encouraged to attend.

"We had some pretty good people come here – knowledgeable people," said Willard.

The workshop began with an optional training headed by Byron Bluehorse, assistant professor for University of Alaska Fairbanks and AKTTAP program director. The sessions covered the basics of the Tribal Transportation Program (TTP), its background, function and overall goals.

Before TTP, the WCAT office operated within the Indian Reservation Roads Program, after Alaskan tribes were more actively included in its projects beginning in 2005. That program was reorganized in 2012 under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). It is currently the largest program of the Office of Federal Lands Highway, receiving $450 million a year for transportation improvement.

Roads and transportation facilities serviceable through the TTP are inventoried with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with support from FHWA. That inventory is then used to determine relative transportation needs among recognized Native tribes, and serves as a basis for allocation of project funding.

Other presentations over the course of last week's workshops included an update on the land-into-trust application process, delivered by UAF associate professor Kevin Illingworth and Tlingit-Haida Central Council lands and resources manager Desiree Duncan.

Participants were able to learn about new reporting techniques as well, with Kyle Kitchel of FHWA walking the workshop through TTP's improved reporting database. Willard explained the new system will help with semi-annual and annual filings, while also providing more information on projects that will indicate how resources are being put to use.

Bluehorse also introduced the group to geographic information systems (GIS), which more comprehensively assigns data to digitized map models, which can then be accessed and transferred more easily.

"This is something I think we're going to work towards," said Willard. "Right now it's all done by hand. We've got great big folders at the office."

In all, Willard considered the workshop to be a success, providing an opportunity to network while also sowing the seeds for future cooperation.

"It was great to see everyone was willing to collaborate," commented Tammi Meissner, on the WCA Board. The Tribe also extended its gratitude to Alaska Power and Telephone for providing internet coverage free of charge during the workshop.

 

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