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Public Treadwell meeting derails

Posted: September 27, 2012 - 11:08pm

Robert Sewell, the organizer of a public meeting Wednesday at Douglas Public Library entitled “Twice the Ice!”, was very clear at the start of the meeting that it was going to be about building a second ice rink at Treadwell Ice Arena, not about a proposal to build a new facility in the Mendenhall Valley.

“Tonight is not a debate about which place to have the ice rink,” said Sewell, a Douglas resident who has inveighed against the Dimond Park ice rink proposal at multiple public meetings. “Tonight is a meeting focused on … the conclusion of the plan that has already been afoot for some number of years to have a second sheet of ice at Treadwell.”

Things did not exactly work out that way.

The first sign of trouble came when Sewell mentioned a legislative appropriation providing $650,000 for the planning and design of a new ice arena in Dimond Park, and one or two members of the audience briefly applauded.

Forging ahead, Sewell took few pokes at the Dimond Park proposal, calling the proposed $6.5 million budget “highly fanciful” and criticizing the appropriation pushed by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, as “parochial.”

“It was a dog-ear of planning money only for one particular location without a public process,” Sewell said.

“You were saying she picked a specific site,” interjected attendee Sharon Wildes. “Why is that a problem, because that’s her district?”

“That’s just raw politics,” Sewell replied.

The dialogue went downhill quickly from there.

Wildes objected to what she characterized as Sewell “questioning (Muñoz’s) motives.”

“She got money for her district,” Wildes said. “What else could she do? … That’s what we elected her for.”

Sewell responded, “What we elect any representative for is to represent our collective interests, and not parochial ones.”

Juneau Adult Hockey Association Vice President Joe Geldhof eventually attempted to mediate.

“We’ve pretty much shown that for the most part, there’s demand for ice,” Geldhof said, receiving verbal agreement from Wildes and Sewell. “If we’re all agreed that we should have a second sheet of ice, how can we move forward on that agenda?”

“We can can stop dreaming about a place in the Valley,” Sewell answered, “because it’s not going to work. It’s going to go down.”

Sewell added, “I think it’s very unlikely that it will occur in the Valley, and the longer that’s held out as a plausibility, the more it jeopardizes public funds for any (plan).”

The factions represented at the meeting were not wholly geographic. Geldhof, who lives in West Juneau, spoke in favor of accepting the Valley site proposal, while Dixie Hood, who lives in the Valley, said she would prefer to look at expanding Treadwell.

As the arguing went on, Douglas resident Jon Heifetz spoke up from the back row to express his annoyance at the turn of events.

“I’m not pleased to be here. I’ve been fasting all day, it’s a Jewish holiday, I should be with my family,” Heifetz said, adding that he originally came to the meeting to learn about how a Treadwell expansion could be procured. “I’m pretty sad that this is turning out to be a meeting that is pitting Valley against Douglas.”

“Let me emphasize, I never intended this to take up Valley topics at all, and I don’t expect there should be any bad blood over talking about this alternative,” Sewell responded.

Sewell argued that Douglas needs Treadwell due to the question of “infrastructure equity.”

“If you bring up a kid in this part of town, you know that there’s not much other than Perseverance, running around in the weeds and playing hockey,” Sewell said. “And the reason why that’s related to this question of a second sheet is this. … If a Taj Mahal is built out in the Valley, what is the likelihood —”

A couple of attendees interrupted, objecting to Sewell’s wording.

“It’s a regular ice rink,” Wildes said firmly.

“Ice rink plus-plus,” Sewell amended, referring to one concept for a deluxe facility floated at a meeting last month (http://bit.ly/NUchlJ).

“Same size as the one in Fairbanks,” Wildes replied.

“Which is much bigger than here,” said Sewell. “If that was built, how much of a suck would there be of discretion, of participation and of revenues from the Treadwell? Remember that cost recovery is only 51 percent. And in order to have 51 percent at the new facility, you would have double — double — the total number of participants just to remain at 51 percent, all else equal.”

That did not sway Sewell’s skeptics.

“Isn’t that what a study would reveal?” Geldhof asked. “A real study that would look at a second sheet of ice would look at any impacts on the existing sheet of ice, on the scheduling, on the operations, on the diminishment to the community.”

Sewell said “the most important thing” to him is the community he said is centered on Treadwell.

“I am worried about that blowing away in the wind if you take the modest skating community that exists and stretch it out over 15 miles,” Sewell said.

Geldhof questioned how Sewell intends to actually get a second rink at Treadwell, now that the legislature has appropriated money to study a Dimond Park site.

“I’m absolutely committed to getting a second sheet of ice in Juneau. I’m also committed to enhancing and protecting the Treadwell Arena,” Geldhof said. He told Sewell, “I think you’re embarking on the wrong strategy to demand that the only sheet of ice that’s built as the second sheet of ice in this community has to be down here.”

But Sewell wasn’t budging.

“We need a second sheet, and I think we need to close ranks with the only option that is acceptable,” said Sewell, arguing that “fiscal conservatives” in Juneau will not approve of the Valley proposal if the City and Borough of Juneau ­— which has not committed either to building a new rink or operating it — has to pay for it.

“This stunt … was a very unfortunate approach to the project,” Sewell added, referring to the allocation. But he also suggested it was “helpful, because now we’re having a conversation” about the plans.

That appeared to further frustrate Geldhof, who interrupted, “It’s not a conversation. You’re demanding that the second sheet of ice must be built —“

Sewell cut Geldhof off, raising his voice.

“No, we’ve already had the cram-down strategy,” Sewell said, obviously irritated. “This is not me. I didn’t come up with this. … I didn’t cook up that this is going to be exclusively for the Valley.”

Geldhof was not satisfied by Sewell’s argument.

“My opinion is you may be able to generate enough support to block a second sheet of ice in the Valley,” Geldhof said. “I don’t see how you’re going to marshal the political support to get the capital to build a second sheet of ice in Douglas.”

“I guess that’s for future work, isn’t it?” Sewell replied.

Wildes said, “There is an ice rink here where your kid can skateboard down to the rink every day. He’s a very good skater as a result, probably one of the best in Juneau, which is awesome to watch. And I’d like to see other kids have the same opportunity, and I think the Valley can support two locations.”

When the meeting ended, prompted by the library’s 8 p.m. closure, the participants appeared no closer to consensus than they were when they started.

Reflecting on the meeting Thursday evening, Sewell said some positive things had come out of it, like being able to identify advocates on both sides of the issue.

“The meeting was what it was,” Sewell said. “But I felt like it was a nice start to a vocal articulation of the value of the Treadwell and the value of having a second sheet there.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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