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With new transportation funds, Douglas Indian Association looks to its members

Posted: August 7, 2013 - 12:09am
A man sits on the curb waiting for the Capital Transit bus across from Crow Hill Drive on Douglas Highway on Thursday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
A man sits on the curb waiting for the Capital Transit bus across from Crow Hill Drive on Douglas Highway on Thursday.

Coming out of a six-year transportation funding partnership with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the Douglas Indian Association has found itself with its own federal transportation funds — about $150,000. The association is asking its membership of about 600 to respond to a survey in order to develop a long-term plan for allocating the funds.

Since 2006, the DIA has received federal funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Tribal Transportation Program in conjunction with the Central Council, Tribal Administrator Andrea Cadiente-Laiti said. However, at the beginning of 2012, the association decided to handle its own transportation because it wasn’t receiving enough funding through the partnership, she said.

“Our needs just simply weren’t being met,” Cadiente-Laiti said. “The DIA’s goals weren’t being achieved. There was a need to prioritize our tribe’s needs.”

When the DIA began sharing Tribal Transportation Program funds with the Central Council in 2006, it was receiving a bigger slice of the pie, she said. Funds allocated to DIA projects dwindled over the years, and the association decided it was time to take its transportation needs into its own hands.

The Tribal Transportation Program gives $450 million per year to tribes across the United States to support transportation projects on native land, including maintenance of traditional trails not maintained by city, state or federal governments. Transportation money can go toward pothole filling and repaving of roads, and improving bus stops and walkways, just to name a few, the DIA’s Linda Snow said.

The DIA this year received about $150,000 through the federal program, Snow said. This money supplements what the city and state spend on tribally prioritized transportation projects, Transportation Planner Joanne Schmidt said.

This yearly federal money can help fund transportation projects on city, state, federal and tribal routes on Douglas Island, in the city of Juneau and beyond municipal boundaries to include areas within traditional DIA territory, Schmidt said. The next step is to gauge the needs of the tribe based on survey results.

The four-page survey, the first of its kind for the DIA, was put out mid-July and is open until Sept. 2. It asks association members to describe what modes of transportation they use, and to identify potential improvements to public transportation and roads. Those who respond to the survey are entered to win cash prizes and movie passes.

The results will be used to create the DIA Long Range Transportation Plan, an improvement plan that will span five to 20 years, Schmidt said.

“There certainly isn’t enough money to fund everything that’s important,” Schmidt said. “There will always be more needs than money to go around. Priorities will be identified based on (the survey).”

A potential improvement would be to add shelters over some bus stops on Douglas Island, Schmidt said. The Crow Hill stop is especially in need of a shelter, she said.

“They are important, particularly in the winter months,” Schmidt said. “And they’re relatively easy to implement, as opposed to a road paving project. We could make a lot of people happy with a relatively small amount of money.”

So far, the association has received about 10 completed surveys, Schmidt said.

Once the survey results are in, it will probably take a year to put together a “really good plan,” she said.

“It will take several drafts, we’ll make edits and changes, and put it back out for review again,” Schmidt said.

Completed surveys can be mailed or brought to the Douglas Indian Association, 811 West 12th Street, faxed to 364-2917, or emailed to Linda Snow at lsnow-dia@gci.net. The prize drawing will be held Sept. 2.

• Reporter Katie Moritz can be reached at 907-523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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