Empire editorial: Juneau is forging ahead in time of war

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

A midst the disturbing news dominating our attention in these troubled times are stories of tempered optimism on a significant level here in Juneau.

This past week brought news of forward momentum on several long-standing local projects.

At the top of the list, the anxiously anticipated decision on the status of the $51 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries research center proposed for Juneau came down last week.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens received word from NOAA Administrator and Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher on Tuesday that the agency will build at Lena Point. Sen. Stevens has gone to bat for Juneau projects many times over the years and fought hard to get funding for this facility to be built in Juneau.

Mayor Sally Smith and other city officials have lobbied hard for the Lena Point site and she acknowledged the city's investment in preparing a site for the project now would generate a return.

The University of Alaska can breathe easy now, too, as the $9 million in funding already secured for its $18 million portion of the joint project will bear fruit and deepen the growing university system's assets in Juneau.

The joint project will provide a good boost to the local economy during the construction phase and also contribute many good-paying jobs for years to come, which in turn will add to the tax base and enhance the quality of life in Juneau.

Equally as important was the action the Assembly took on Monday, unanimously passing a measure to place a $12.5 million JDHS renovation bond on the June special election ballot along with an additional $12.6 million in bonding the Mendenhall Valley high school.

The Empire also reported this week on one important community project that is well underway to completion. The Steamship Wharf-Marine Park area project downtown stands as a tangible example of the community's will to move forward through compromise.

After year's of indecision on what to do with the area, the cruise ship industry, the Assembly, city staff, Downtown Business Association, harbor board and a great number of private citizens collaborated on a concept that will provide benefits for tourists and local residents. The project includes ample room for tour bus staging, a convertible pedestrian plaza and doubles the amount of green park space.

City Port Director John Stone anticipates the perimeter of the area will open on schedule in May, with the convertible plaza to open by July 3. The project is on schedule and on budget.

Progress is also being made in addressing flightseeing noise mitigation. This week the Assembly's Public Policy Committee approved funding for testing quieter turbine engines on the larger floatplanes that could reduce noise levels by as much as 50 percent. Discussions are underway on ways to fund the cost of retrofitting the planes.

This week also brought news of movement on a more controversial project deeply rooted in time, the Juneau Access Environment Impact Study. The issue of building a road that would link Juneau to the road system has long fostered a contentious debate throughout the Lynn Canal region and, in fact, across the entire state as witnessed during last fall's election in the context of the capital-move question.

Gov. Murkowski has ordered the process to be restarted after more than three years of costly foot dragging by the Knowles-Ulmer administration. The questions of where and whether the road will be built need to be answered. The area communities impacted need to be heard, and the promised environmental challenges must be faced and concluded on an official level but only after sufficient opportunity for public comment.

The governor should be commended for reinvigorating this vitally important regional study. The future of Southeast Alaska's economy is directly dependent upon the development of its complex transportation infrastructure built upon a network of roads, bridges, air, barge and ferry service.

Also taking a step forward this week is the Auke Bay Commercial Loading Facility. The CBJ Docks and Harbors Board passed a recommendation to the CIP Committee to switch the focus of the proposed loading facility from Stabler's Point to the Lindegarrd property and develop concepts that would advance in phases. This facility is long overdue and will provide a great asset for the commercial fishing fleet.

There are many other important local projects that didn't capture headlines this week. The Totem Creek golf course, second crossing study, hospital expansion, private cruise ship dock, Kensington Mine, airport EIS, Gold Creek reclamation, UAS expansion and long-term waterfront plans are making incremental progress. Juneau also is adding to its parklands and trails with expansion at Eagle Beach and most recent effort to put 148 acres of rich coastal wetlands and wildlife habitat near the Herbert River into the park system.

The dark shadow that the war in Iraq has cast over our lives will pass, and when it does, the reality that Juneau is truly a community with a bright future will emerge. The many progressive projects mentioned here will strengthen and diversify Juneau's economy, solidify its status as a regional hub, and build confidence for more private investment.

Don Smith



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