It's Feb. 11, 2005 and I'm sitting here in Skagway wondering what transportation will be like in 20 years. The road to Whitehorse has only opened occasionally in the past few weeks, the planes have been grounded due to poor flying conditions and the ferry service is now the worst I've ever seen in 20 years. The Klawock basketball teams are trying to get in for the weekend games but no luck today. Last week Skagway had to cancel its games in Kake after waiting three days to get out. In both of these situations our kids would have made their destinations safely on a ferry. What happened to our service? I thought Alaska had a good year due to high oil prices, but we seem to have a problem with putting fuel oil in our ferries.
Let's move ahead 20 years. It's February and blowing a gale out of the north. I've got a doctor's appointment in Juneau, and for the past week I've been trying to get there. The road is closed. I might be able to make it to Whitehorse, but my eyes are not up to the whiteout conditions on the White Pass. The only local air service left flying has canceled for the day. What happened to our transportation system? I'm thinking about what it might have been like if Alaska had not made the ill-advised choice of building an avalanche-prone road down one of the most natural deepwater marine corridors in the world. The few mainline ferries stop in Juneau. The capital is still in Juneau but not enough legislators will drive the road from Anchorage to Skagway or Haines to justify having the occasional mainline ferry make the trip. Some people thought it was expensive to ride the ferry 20 years ago but would gladly share the cost of fuel to take a safe winter ride to Juneau now. I often think back and wonder what else I could have done to convince people that the water was the best approach up the Lynn Canal.
The state of Alaska recently released the supplemental draft environmental impact statement for Juneau Access. As everyone expected it has the East Lynn Canal road as the Department of Transportation's preferred alternative. The document needs a lot of work to be considered legitimate and may even border on fantasy. Look up the document online under Juneau Access or go to the library and see what you think. At least comment on some of the factual errors you are bound to find. The marine alternatives are still the safest and most reliable transportation from Juneau to Haines/Skagway.
Mike Korsmo is from Skagway and is a member of Skagway City Council, Southeast Conference Board of Directors and Alaska Municipal League Public Works Committee.