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Let's set our sights on a sustainable solution

Posted: November 29, 2013 - 1:05am

On Nov. 5, the City and Borough of Juneau’s city engineer presented a proposal to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Council that named four sites under consideration for off-road vehicle (OHV) areas in Juneau. These sites ranged from a 1,500-acre site at 35 mile to a quarry less than three acres in size in the Fish Creek Valley near the beginning of the Eaglecrest Road.

Many of us from all over Juneau were shocked. A similar proposal for an OHV park at Fish Creek Road Quarry was just resoundingly defeated by the Juneau Planning Commission by a near unanimous vote of six to one in 2008. That was after an emotional and exhausting 14 months of public outcry by many Juneau residents who loudly and clearly urged the CBJ to keep OHV use away from neighborhoods, and to protect non-motorized recreational use in the Fish Creek Valley. Isn’t that why CBJ sought an OHV park out the road?

The 2008 proposal, as well as this new one, have resulted in an acrimonious and antagonistic confrontation between OHV users and those that want to protect the Fish Creek Valley and rural character of North Douglas. The ill effects of pitting citizens against each other in this manner are still felt from 2008 and need not recur if a more prudent, thoughtful long-term OHV proposal replaces the one that has been offered.

The North Douglas area is highly valued by many Juneau residents for its non-motorized recreation opportunities. Even a small step into off-road motorized use would significantly change the habitat, wildlife, neighborhood and current recreational uses of the Fish Creek Valley.

Many have testified about the problems that would occur if this motocross area and race track were placed in the heart of the Fish Creek Valley — less than 1,400 feet from the nearest residences. These problems include excessive noise, conflicts with non-motorized users, negative effects on local wildlife, devaluation of home and property values, lack of funds to provide security to insure that users do not ignore boundaries and degrade the surrounding forest and muskegs, traffic safety issues on the North Douglas and Fish Creek Roads, and perhaps the most obvious problem — the proposal’s incompatibility with the 2013 CBJ Land Use Plan.

CBJ’s Comprehensive Plan (2013 draft, chapter 1) guides our leaders to maintain the “identity and vitality of our neighborhoods.” Additionally, Sub-area 8 (North Douglas) is comprised of a stream protection corridor (Fish Creek), scenic corridor and view shed (Fish Creek Road), and a natural area park (Fish Creek Park).

The Fish Creek Valley has a long history of non-motorized use including hiking, bicycling, running, skiing, hunting, snowshoeing, wildlife viewing, berry picking and outdoor education programs.

Responsible stewardship of our unique and rich Juneau surroundings must be at the top of the list for our city leaders. Tough choices need to be made, with eyes on the long-term results of those decisions. We look to our mayor, and the entire CBJ government, to protect our citizens, neighborhoods, lands and recreation now and for our future generations.

We trust our leaders to seek prudent and enduring solutions to issues that arise, and shun the “quick and easy” fixes that can so often come back and bite us later. A “quick and easy” fix, such as sticking a motocross park in the Fish Creek Valley to “solve” the issue of OHV use in Juneau would surely come back to haunt us in the future.

I urge Juneau citizens to contact our mayor, the director of Parks and Recreation, and the PRAC council to ask them to take the Fish Creek Road Quarry out of the proposed OHV park options. The next PRAC meeting is Dec. 3, at 6 p.m. at Assembly Chambers, City Hall. Please consider attending, testifying and/or writing the PRAC to share your concerns.

Let’s put our intelligence together to reach optimal and sustainable solutions, rather than create future problems through inadequate short-term fixes. We’ll know when we have the right solution. It might even be beautiful!

• Fred Hiltner is a 30-year resident of North Douglas.

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