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My Turn: Save Juneau's waterfront

Quality of life at stake

Posted: May 12, 2011 - 6:01pm

Under the euphemism of “Dock Improvement (16 B),” downtown Juneau is destined to become more congested than ever imagined. There is a familiar and relevant quote, “One man’s congestion is another man’s customers.” Humongous floating docks to accommodate two Panamax cruise ships off of Marine Park will effectively block Gastineau Channel access and view planes for several programs and projects.

Significantly, even the Northwest Cruiseship Association opposed this development as jeopardizing their own ship movements. Panamax ships are hundreds of feet longer and with thousands more passengers than any cruise ship presently coming to Juneau. The Sitka Assembly voted “no” to them. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted “yes.”

The Alaska Commercial Fisherman’s Memorial and the annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony will have to be moved. It will cost $2 million to accomplish the Memorial Wall and site relocation. This is indeed, as others have noted, the equivalent to moving a graveyard. And just so that business interests can increase sales.

Also interfered with is the Marine Park setting for Skip Wallen’s 27-foot-high bronze humpback whale sculpture and fountain. This remarkable piece of artwork would provide a unique, world-class destination and landmark of local pride. Because of it size and setting requirements, a different placement needs to be found.

A third waterfront attraction presently stymied by the intrusive Panamax dock design is the Storis Maritime Museum proposal. The 245-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Storis has been decommissioned and a Storis Museum Committee has established non-profit status to obtain the ship for use as a historic memorial and public museum. These local advocates, including several retired Coast Guard captains have initiated the necessary legislation, introduced by Alaska’s U.S. congressional delegation, to transfer title of the Storis to the museum Committee. But where can it go? Placement on shore or locked-in behind the Panamax ships and inaccessible for maintenance is not an acceptable option.

Continuation of the high-priority seawalk, past the Library, past Marine Park, past Merchant’s Wharf, past the Subport, on down to the Juneau-Douglas Bridge will be delayed by the diversion of available funds. Sixty-two million dollars or more will be earmarked for all the Docks and Harbors Port Development Funds, and a major amount of state and local marine passenger fees, for the foreseeable future. At a recent Committee of the Whole meeting, the year 2035 was specified, though our mayor expressed “sticker shock” and hoped that it would be possible to pay off the debt before then!

What is particularly galling is that the Long Range Waterfront Plan, adopted by ordinance in 2007, an Assembly-discredited voter survey and subsequent “scientific poll” by the McDowell Group, all rejected such construction for cruise ships. The word was: “No more docks, no more downtown congestion.” Only extension of the existing municipal dock would be acceptable. So spoke the citizenry of Juneau.

This under-the-radar extravagant scheme is in violation of all the public process. And contrary to the quality of life we seek for our community and for visitors. Our waterfront is unique and very limited. Let’s protect it and enhance it. What are you willing to do?

• Hood is a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and designated liaison with the Docks and Harbors Board.

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