My Turn: City's Lena Point course is prudent

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

Lars Gregovich's Feb. 10 letter distorts the record and confuses the actions of two decision-making bodies. If he is frustrated by the progress of the NOAA facility, I share that sentiment. The inaction of NOAA is beyond the control of the CBJ.

CBJ became involved in the NOAA facility early to ensure the facility would be built in Juneau, protecting and promoting local employment. By purchasing the rock quarry with $4 million of local money, CBJ tried to forge a win for all parties. NOAA obtained a buildable site, CBJ retained professional jobs, and a rock quarry moved from a residential neighborhood. Some Lena residents, like Mr. Gregovich, are still unhappy.

CBJ's Comprehensive Plan and Land Management Plan have designated the interior of Lena Point for residential development. One reason for the high cost of housing in Juneau is the scarcity of residential building lots. Because of this, and at the direction of the Assembly in 1995, staff prepared a feasibility study for a subdivision of CBJ land on the Lena peninsula. There were many meetings between CBJ staff and the neighborhood resulting in several subdivision concepts.

For a variety of reasons, including market conditions and a desire to not compete with private sector development, the Assembly chose not to proceed with a subdivision at that time. A look in the classifieds now will tell you that we presently don't have enough residential lots to meet community needs, and now is the time for CBJ to be proactive in meeting market demands.

During the early planning process for the Lena Point Facility, the Lena Point residents were insistent that CBJ mitigate traffic impacts of the proposed NOAA facility. To select traffic mitigation measures, CBJ prepared an environmental assessment. Amongst numerous options, a new roadway in the interior of the peninsula was selected as the preferred alternative. The majority of comments from the neighborhood supported this. At the time, CBJ and the neighborhood recognized that a new interior roadway would facilitate development of the interior lands. Indeed, CBJ contributed $1 million of local money to the new interior roadway based on the assumption the roadway would be an asset that could be used by a future residential subdivision.

In July 2001, CBJ signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with NOAA for construction of traffic mitigation measures for the proposed federal facility. The traffic mitigation consisted of a separate access road to the Lena Point facility, instead of using existing public roads. The MOA stated that construction of the mitigating measures would be complete by December 2002. This timeline was created in response to suggestions from the neighborhood. The accelerated schedule would allow the mitigating measures to take place before the start of construction for the NOAA facility.

When CBJ opened bids for construction of the new roadway in June 2002, NOAA had already opened bids for construction of the facility and was internally discussing whether or not to proceed. CBJ requested guidance from NOAA on whether we should proceed with the construction of the roadway. NOAA told CBJ to continue with the project. CBJ awarded the contract for road construction on July 1, 2002.

On July 26, 2002, NOAA canceled its bid award process and commenced an in-house study (currently ongoing) to determine whether and how to proceed with their facility plans. NOAA has not requested that CBJ stop construction of the roadway. While CBJ has the right to curtail the construction, damages to the contractor would be significant and borne solely by CBJ. Additionally, in accordance with the MOA, the city would be required to finish the road project for NOAA later.

As an engineer and construction manager, Mr. Gregovich should know the perils of canceling construction contracts midstream. For clarification, I will briefly summarize: it ain't cheap. To anyone interested in the details of contractors' rights and construction law, there are entire journals dedicated to these issues. As an example of cost, the state canceled a regional road construction project after the contract was awarded. Termination of that construction contract cost the public approximately $1.5 million.

The NOAA facility and the Lena subdivision are important projects for the city. I encourage the public to join me in giving wholehearted support to projects which promote the community's economic vitality.

John MacKinnon is interim city manager of Juneau.

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