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Juneau Access Project manager resigns, but no setback predicted for road north

Egan expects no adverse impacts on road's development

Posted: March 7, 2014 - 12:06am
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Sandy Williams, right, prepresenting Citizens Pro Road, testifies in favor of extending the road north of Juneau to the Katzehin River during a Joint Transportation Committee meeting at the Capitol on Thursday. Patrick Kemp, left, Commissioner of Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and Jeff Ottesen, Program Development Director for DOTPF, with map, listen with other Juneau residents on the mega project.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Sandy Williams, right, prepresenting Citizens Pro Road, testifies in favor of extending the road north of Juneau to the Katzehin River during a Joint Transportation Committee meeting at the Capitol on Thursday. Patrick Kemp, left, Commissioner of Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and Jeff Ottesen, Program Development Director for DOTPF, with map, listen with other Juneau residents on the mega project.

The state’s project manager for Juneau Access — the proposed road north out of Juneau — is leaving the Department of Transportation, effective today.

An internal memo dated Feb. 10 stated that Gary Hogins, a 30-year veteran of the department, will be taking over the project from Mike Vigue, who accepted a position with the Federal Highway Administration in Juneau.

There was no mention of the pending leadership change at a Thursday joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees, which gathered to discuss the Juneau project and a proposed road to Ambler in northwest Alaska.

Members of Juneau’s Government Hill delegation were unaware of the change, but Sen. Dennis Egan, a long-time supporter of the road, isn’t worried about any problems.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect the project at all,” said Egan, D-Juneau. “There’s been a lot of project designers in charge of this thing over the last 40 years.”

After delivering his last presentation to the joint committee Thursday, Vigue told the Empire his decision to leave the DOT was unrelated to his involvement with the project.

During his presentation, Vigue said building the road would let more than 1,300 cars per day travel between Haines and Juneau. Now, only 71 cars per day can use that route, a figure determined by ferry service.

If the road were built, the long ferry ride from Haines to Juneau would be replaced by a short three-mile hop across Lynn Canal.

“The current Lynn Canal transportation system is the largest bottleneck in the state,” Vigue read from a presentation slide. “It deserves a better and more efficient alternative.”

Jeff Ottesen, program development director for the DOT, told lawmakers the road makes economic sense — despite a price tag estimated at around $500 million — because of the high cost of providing ferry service in the area. Over the next 50 years, the cost of building and operating one mainline ferry — after subtracting revenue gained from ferry riders — is about $1.42 billion, Ottesen told the committee.

The marine highway system takes up about half of the department’s budget despite transporting fewer than 1 percent of those commuting through the state, he added.

“When Gov. Bill Egan initiated the ferry system in 1962, it was never meant to provide a permanent solution to transportation in Southeast Alaska,” said Sandy Williams of Citizens Pro Road.

But the road is hardly a slam dunk as both public opposition and legal challenges aim to stop the project.

“I’d much rather spend a half-billion dollars — and half-billion is a very generous cost estimate — on repairing infrastructure we already have, or harbors or roads where there’s more of an obvious demand and benefit,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

The City and Borough of Juneau offered its support for the project in a letter to the committee, but the Haines Borough sent a letter opposing the project.

Haines prefers the road be built on the west side of Lynn Canal to avoid the dangers of numerous avalanche zones that line the proposed route.

One of the project’s biggest opponents, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, called the project a “flawed and destructive ‘Road to Nowhere’” in a letter sent to the committee. SEACC is the organization that helped delay the project eight years ago.

In 2006, a SEACC-backed lawsuit successfully halted the project. The state appealed the initial ruling, but the appeal was denied in 2011. The state then began working to satisfy the judge’s concerns about the state’s work, and that work is expected to conclude this year.

If the state gets a green light from the courts and federal approval by mid to late August, construction could begin as soon as this September. The Alaska Department of Transportation is expecting about six years of construction, Vigue told the Empire previously.

 

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Alexander  Madagascar
1283
Points
Alexander Madagascar 03/10/14 - 12:00 pm
3
3
Norway...

Is a country of 5.5 million people, largely culturally homogeneous (86%), located on a piece of land smaller than California.

They allow OCS drilling. The federal government has seen to it that won't be a possibility in Alaska.

They also have a robust whaling industry, and don't operate under near the environmental constraints Alaska is forced to.

Lastly, they have a vibrant timber industry, from harvest to pulp, something which has been all but eliminated in southeast Alaska due to groups like SEACC.

Bottom line, they have a ton of resources, and aren't afraid to develop them. They don't have to deal with expensive and frivolous environmental lawsuits like we do in Alaska. They are near dynamic and large economic and population areas (Europe, Russia), and have a very small population which consists mostly of ethnic northern Germanic peoples who have been there for 1,000 years.

But, I suppose what you're really driving at is the state-owned oil companies like Statoil and Aker Solutions. A brilliant idea in theory, much harder to execute, especially in our country. Norway basically was able to set their own environmental laws and operate autonomously in the development of their oil industry. Much of the infrastructure they built themselves because they could simply just go out and build it and didn't have endless court battles with any environmental group that came along.

You think that would fly here? You think the federal government would allow Alaska to have its own state-owned oil company without their cut? How many acts of Congress would it take to allow this to happen?

Apples to Oranges.

Also, I'm not sure who Rusty Zimbabwe is, but I bet he's a cool dude. And there is only one Alaskan Assassin, his name is Trajan Langdon.

Clay Good
1962
Points
Clay Good 03/10/14 - 02:05 pm
2
2
Apples and Oranges

Nice report. You must have had some good teachers.

Yes, I was referencing the fact that Norway has extraordinary wealth because they don't hand it out to giant multinational corporations. They keep it and use it for the benefit of their nation.

That's why they can afford mega road projects.

DOT, and certain commenters on this forum, really like to point to Norway as the example to follow. Their idea, not mine.

If Alaska retained its oil and other resource wealth, we could build roads, or anything else, to anywhere we want.

Apples to Oranges, indeed.

So....what is your real name?

Judy Hodel
4720
Points
Judy Hodel 03/10/14 - 02:16 pm
2
1
Glacier Dogs

Resurfaces as AM.

Kevin Nye
656
Points
Kevin Nye 03/10/14 - 07:51 pm
3
2
Happy For Norway

I am happy for Norway and for Norwegians to have their nationally owned oil corporation, known as Statoil. Currently their government owns 67% of the shares.

However, Alaska is not a country, it is a state within a country. We COULD be our own country though ;-) ), but that's not going to happen, and I don't know how Alaska can have ownership in an oil corporation. And anyway, we don't have any Alaskans who can run a corporation like that. We had to import Texans and Okies to build the Pipeline.

You may say that it is all about not having the money to do this road, and at this point, and I said this before, I don't see it ever happening because of the mounting costs. But, I don't think this is your only argument Clay. Yes, it is too expensive...NOW. But there was a time long ago when this proposal was very young, and it could have been done back during the oil boom years when the TAP was full to the gills. But, those days are gone now. And every reason from the destruction of Steller sea Lion habitat, to death by avalanche, to it being an enigineering impossibility, to road to nowhere, to "ferries are better" and also the high cost factor have been trotted out to stop this project since those early days. I have a friend, an older gentleman whose son owns a local meat processing place here in Juneau. He is retired now, but he was on a State surveying crew that surveyed the west side of Lynn Canal and platted out a road back in around 1968. He told me that foolishly, they thought that all of the hard work that they had done was going to help produce a road on the other side with a car ferry out of Auke Bay or Amalga. But, "silly me" he said in exasperation. He got visibly angry when talking about all the opposition to what was once, as Gomez Adams would say, "A Capital Idea!"

If Alaska had it's own State owned oil company and we could pay for it like the Norwegians paid for their fantastic highway, would you then want to see the road built? Would SEACC then say "Oh well, heck yea! Built it!" Umm, I don't think so. I still think it would just be a "road to nowhere" by those who oppose it. Would that be you too Clay? Just curious.

Clay Good
1962
Points
Clay Good 03/10/14 - 09:16 pm
4
1
Smoke and Mirrors

Mr. Nye,

Thank you for taking the time to take this discussion a little deeper.

You are certainly correct that I have many more reasons for opposing the road to Katzehin than merely the expense, which is obscene.

But, it is also obscene to pretend this project isn't primarily a road to the mine and the neighboring private properties.

This road will never get past Comet, but planners have to pretend it will in order to acquire funding.

Uncle Sam and Alaska voters may not be so interested if they thought the road was being built principally to benefit select private interests instead creating real transportations options for the public.

And you're also right that the west side plan was argued decades ago. Senator Egan said at last week's Transportation Committee hearing that he supported that plan before it was vetoed in1972. I'm sure there's some interesting history there.

I don't and can't speak for SEACC as I'm not a member. But if they're the kind of folks who also eschew private development at public expense, then they may be better folks than you make them out to be.

I'm surprised you can't imagine that people can be both fiscally conservative and environmentally conservative at the same time. I contend that if we are to do right by our children, we have a responsibility to be both.

To answer your question, 1.) If we had all the money we needed, and 2.) the public process had integrity, and 3.) it was deemed by others than those who stand to profit that the results were worth the damage, and 4.) all other viable options had been eliminated, then you could hand me the shovel to break ground.

Does that answer your question?

Since were posing hypothetical scenarios, I have a question for you: If DOT builds the road to the mine and then stops because its too difficult and expensive to go further, will you regret it? Or do you think a road to Berners Bay for private development is a good use of public funds?

Just curious.

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