Low-impact options for Channel crossing must stay on the table

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Consultants for the city of Juneau are accepting comments on finalized options for a second crossing of Gastineau Channel online at www.juneau.org. During previous scoping, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities proposed 14 crossing options for consideration. These have now been inexplicably narrowed to four (plus one variation), all of which would traverse the Mendenhall refuge.

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The now-vanished Channel Drive/Salmon Creek option, south of the refuge, was favored by the state. This option was the least expensive, shortest and, ironically, had the fewest environmental problems. It was the only option that collected southbound Bonnie Brae traffic. It would have saved around 10 miles round-trip for most north Douglas residents on a drive to the hospital and beyond. Options traversing north of the airport and refuge have also disappeared from planning documents. Reasons for elimination of these lower-impact options are not clear, but pursuing a planning effort which preferentially targets the Mendenhall refuge for development seems misguided and terribly premature.

The four cross-refuge options would impact refuge wetlands well beyond the footprint of a causeway. When a habitat area is partitioned, the sum of the parts is very much less than the value of the whole. A causeway would fragment fish habitats and critical feeding and nesting areas for waterfowl and other species of birds. The migratory corridor for many fish and mammal species would be closed or restricted. Hikers would find less seclusion and less wildlife. Hunters would find fewer waterfowl and could be further restricted due to road setbacks.

Limiting crossing options to only those that damage the refuge is an insult to the community that has worked very hard to protect it. It is important that low impact options remain on the table. There's certainly no urgency to this issue. Following the political debacles of "bridges to nowhere," funding for this project isn't going to happen anytime soon. We have time to make an intelligent decision.

Andy Grossman


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