Building a bridge to progress

Juneau needs a second crossing and a plan for solid-waste disposal

Posted: Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Improving Juneau is a goal shared by many in this community. Not everyone here shares the same idea about what constitutes an improvement, but I believe most residents like seeing the town prosper and get generally better.

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I support projects I know will improve the quality of life here - projects moving slowly toward reality despite obstacles over the years. The Kensington Mine is one example that has already created a large number of high-paying jobs. Despite dilatory legal actions brought by a few groups in opposition to the fully legal and duly permitted tailings-disposal plan, I think Kensington will stay on schedule and be fully operational in the not-too-distant future. The arguments of those who oppose Kensington at any cost will fade away and be forgotten.

I am not as confident of immediate progress on Juneau access. I was excited when former Gov. Frank Murkowski set in motion the construction of a pioneer road at the southern end of the route the Lynn Canal Highway will one day traverse. I was concerned when Gov. Sarah Palin put the brakes on the project. I fully respect her desire to ensure that the contract for this project is properly awarded, and I don't doubt for a moment her commitment to making Juneau more accessible for all Alaskans.

For progress on the road to continue, we must have the right team in place at the Alaska Department of Transportation, which I believe means keeping some of the people who were there in the prior administration. A second prerequisite is securing some of the funds in this year's capital budget.

The North Douglas Crossing is an improvement that struck me as fairly noncontroversial, so it surprised me when it became the subject of debate this past month. Apparently, it has more opponents than I realized, and this concerns me.

The future of Juneau lies on the west side of Douglas Island. To get there, people have to be able to get easily to the northern end of the island. I see great things happening in this area, from the golf course, to the construction of much-needed new housing, and significant improvements at Eaglecrest. But we're not going to realize these benefits if we don't expand access. We simply must come up with a viable plan for a second bridge. Endless arguing will kill the project, and that's an outcome we cannot afford.

I was previously unaware that there had been so many possible options for the North Douglas Crossing. As I've learned more about them, I've heard the concerns about the wetlands some of the routes would cross. At the end of the day, I want to preserve natural conditions to the greatest extent possible, but we need a bridge that provides the most access and responds to the greatest demand. If that means building across some sensitive habitat, then we must find a way that protects the habitat as much as possible.

A North Douglas Crossing is not a mere option or potentiality. It is crucial to the future health and well-being of Juneau and must be built sooner rather than later.

Back across Gastineau Channel, in Lemon Creek, Home Depot is being built, and Costco has permits to expand. Wal-Mart is coming to the old Kmart location. Alongside these private commercial developments is a quasi-public project that cannot be ignored. The landfill is not going to work the way it currently exists.

I recycle as much as I can, a time-consuming endeavor. It is a matter of personal responsibility: I used the products that came in packaging of various materials, so I should be accountable for disposing of the materials. But even if everyone recycled, there would still be a lot of garbage. It just cannot continue to stack up at the landfill. We need a plan for solid-waste disposal, and we're not the only community in Southeast Alaska that does.

We need to work with the rest of the region to find a sustainable solution to this problem. As we do, we'll continue to see our community and the quality of our lives improve.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan, an actor, attorney and bartender.

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