Sitkans cool to Baranof Island crossing

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2005

SITKA - A state proposal to build a road from Sitka across Baranof Island received an ice-cold reception by residents of the city.

More than 130 people on Thursday crowded into Centennial Hall for a state Department of Transportation public scoping meeting.

None of the 35 people who testified spoke in support of a road, which is aimed at improving transportation options for Sitka. The Sitka Sentinel reported that a count of hands late in the meeting showed 108 opposed and no one in support.

DOT officials and consultants gathered testimony and gave presentations at the meeting, the first of 11 planned this month on the Northern Panhandle Transportation Study and Sitka Access Environmental Impact Statement.

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DOT planning chief Andy Hughes said the transportation study and the impact statement were recommended last year in the state's Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan.

Joint scoping meetings are being held for the studies. The goal of the scoping, he said, is to identify new transportation alternatives and hear concerns.

Studies on the social, economic and environmental costs of transportation options should be developed within two years, he said.

For the studies, DOT is contracting with consulting firms CH2M Hill and the McDowell Group, which have done phone surveys and reviewed previous transportation studies dating back to 1964.

CH2M Hill consultant Mike Downing said DOT has developed a list of at least 42 transportation alternatives, which include options for different roads across Baranof Island, a ferry transfer facility on Chatham Strait and a "no action" alternative.

From the list of 42 alternatives, he said, CH2M Hill will make recommendations to DOT for options worth more study.

"We are at the very beginning," Downing said. "Decisions that have been made are to do the study. Nothing else is determined."

A consultant with the McDowell Group, Susan Bell, presented results from phone surveys done this fall on past and future transportation trends in Southeast Alaska.

The survey showed that 76 percent of Sitka residents surveyed wanted ferry improvements but only 8 percent wanted to build a road and move the ferry terminal to the other side of the island.

After about an hour of presentations and questions Thursday, DOT opened the meeting to public testimony, which lasted roughly 90 minutes.

At the start of testimony, some audience members unveiled an 8-foot sign reading "Bring the Ferries, Stop the Road." A half dozen others raised placards shaped like stop signs reading, "The Road Stops Here."

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