Forward-thinking planning vital to the future of ‘the glacier’

An electric motor coach provided by BYD Auto Co., Ltd., a Chinese automobile manufacturer based in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, and Alaska Coach Tours stops at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center to showcase the potential for electric vehicle bus transportation as part of the tourism industry in Alaska on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Glacier. The Mendenhall. The Lake. In U.S. Forest Service nomenclature, this Juneau gem is the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area (MGRA). The USFS and contractors are deep into drafting a course of action for decades of management of the wonderland we call “The Glacier.”

 

350Juneau is Juneau’s chapter of the global grassroots climate change movement 350.org. We advocate for a just, healthy, low-carbon future and seek to hold corporations and public officials accountable. 350Juneau wants people to be aware of the MGRA planning process. There is much work still to be done and no final decisions made yet, but with the future of Juneau’s glacier playground and top tourist destination on the table, we want this plan to do it right.

“Right” in this case means treating the planning for decades of human engagement at the MGRA as a opportunity to reshape the human side of one of Juneau’s special places and an opportunity to address our planet’s most pressing issue. With over 500,000 annual visitors and numbers increasing, this plan’s impacts will have lasting implications, not only on the management of the MGRA but on the takeaways for this huge population of visitors.

The MGRA is a showcase of Alaska’s striking beauty and plays a lead role in the ongoing saga of global climate change. Addressing crowd management, human access and recreational options are all vital to the future success of MGRA, but the climate change message sent home with the half million visitors must be the foundation upon which all aspects of the plan are based. Alaska is known to be “on the front lines” of climate change and to ignore reality would be a grave mistake.

It is paramount that “business as usual” be cast aside and that the plan, as stated by contractor Corvus Design, Inc, “include innovative … solutions.” Diesel buses, expanded parking lots and oil boilers are not innovative and have no place in the MGRA’s future. With a virtual consensus of climate change acceptance and acknowledging the renewable energy revolution sweeping the globe, 350Juneau supports the following innovative concepts for the MGRA’s next 50 years:

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Remote Parking/ Electric Shuttle

The parking area near the lake should be returned to a natural state and be replaced with a “welcome zone” where visitors first view the area’s spectacular beauty. This no-traffic zone would be accessed by an electric circulator carrying visitors from off-site parking. Benefits include: elimination of noise, fumes and congestion; avoidance of invasive kettle pond and wetlands filling to allow for “front row” parking; and visitor education of the value of transportation circulators to improve experience and reduce visual impacts. Off-peak seasons could possibly allow closer parking for winter recreation.

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Preferential treatment for electric vehicles

Planning must incorporate current renewable energy progress. The Juneau Renewable Energy Strategy (2018) lays the foundation to power Juneau with 80 percent renewable energy by 2045 and momentum is building to electrify city and personal vehicle fleets and convert heating systems to efficient heat pumps. Businesses embracing these changes should be rewarded with incentives such as better parking or VIP shuttle access. These benefits could be marketable to tour customers, further emphasizing the importance of electrification and renewable energy development.

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Heat Pumps

Both new construction and existing facilities should be heated with oil-free, high efficiency heat pumps. Up-front costs could be quickly repaid with money saved by eliminating the purchase of heating fuel.

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Electric Boat Access

Moving visitors across the lake closer to the receding glacier would best be served with small, quiet electric vessels. These shuttles would not only be intriguing to tourists, but would offer an additional renewable energy amenity to the forward-thinking ideas put into this plan.

Please join with 350Juneau and our vision for an educational, sustainable and fossil fuel free MGRA, devoid of noise and pollution and showcasing the effects of climate change. Please visit http://mgra-mgvc.us and submit your comments today.


• Andy Romanoff is a 28-year resident of Juneau and sits on the board of 350Juneau.


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