Leaders agree on gas, ferries

Northern Panhandle business leaders find common ground

Posted: Monday, January 22, 2001

Lynn Canal business leaders agreed to work together on the natural gas pipeline project, fast ferries and keeping the Capitol in Juneau during a joint chambers of commerce meeting Saturday in Haines.

But the approximately 65 delegates from Haines, Juneau and Skagway did not address the recent flap over a Haines official asking how to annex Skagway or the possibility of a road from Juneau.

"We didn't get together to dredge up problems, but to solve problems," Juneau Mayor Sally Smith said.

"It was intentional that we did not talk about it (the road issue)," said George Davidson, executive director of the Juneau chamber. "That issue was before us last year and we weren't going to rehash it."

"We avoided issues that were divisive," Haines chamber president Rich Kaloostian said.

Depending on its route, the pipeline could benefit all three towns by creating jobs and increasing commerce through the shipping of freight and supplies to Canada. There was also interest in the possibility of a pipeline spur providing gas to Southeast communities.

Haines, Skagway and Juneau leaders - including those who support a road - also agreed on improving the Alaska Marine Highway System. Juneau voters narrowly chose ferry system improvements over a road north in an advisory vote in October. The Juneau chamber backed the road option.

Davidson, a former ferry system director, wants the faster vessels built sooner. He said there's a bottleneck during the busy summer months, when state ferries are unable to meet demand.

"From May to October of last year, 114 trips were at 85 percent of capacity, 61 ships at 90 percent and 11 at 100 percent," Davidson said. "What it means is that during those times people have the potential to make other plans."

One fast ferry, connecting Sitka and Juneau, is on the drawing board. But plans for a northern Lynn Canal fast ferry are on hold.

Chamber members also discussed tourism, redistricting of voting districts, Legislative move possibilities, Yukon business partnerships, commercial and employment opportunities across borders, and relationships and impacts involving Haines, Skagway and Juneau.

Although the Juneau road and Haines annexation did not come up during the seminars, the topics did surface in hallways and breakrooms.

"The annexation was just an inquiry by one person that snowballed into something beyond what anyone intended," Skagway chamber President Reed McCluskey said. "We recognized that we should continue to agree to disagree on the road issue."

Win Gruening, head of the Alaska Committee, discussed why it's so important for the Capitol and Legislature to remain in Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

"He did a wonderful job of talking with Haines and Skagway about the relationship they have with the Capitol and how important it is to keep it in the region," Smith said.

The three chambers plan to meet in Juneau on March 17. Southeast business leaders will also invite their colleagues from Whitehorse and Haines Junction.

"I think when we go to the Southeast Conference now, we can go as a united front for the upper Lynn Canal," Kaloostian said.

Mike Sica can be reached at msica@juneauempire.com.

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