SEACC argues against road up Lynn Canal

DOT schedules public hearing April 8

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2003

A road from Juneau to Skagway would be dangerous in the winter, harmful to habitat and too expensive, according to a conservation group that aims to prevent it from being built.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council presented a slide show and guest panel Tuesday night at Centennial Hall to make the case for enhanced ferry service over road construction.

In December, Gov. Frank Murkowski directed the state Department of Transportation to complete the environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Project.

The study, which analyzes transportation improvements between the communities of Juneau, Skagway and Haines, was cut short in 2000 when Gov. Tony Knowles decided to pursue fast-ferry service. At the time the study was shelved, the road option was its preferred alternative.

The Department of Transportation has scheduled a public hearing for 4 to 8 p.m. April 8 at the Mendenhall Center on plans to complete the draft environmental impact statement for Juneau access.

"We have an opportunity to give the Department of Transportation all of our comments and all of our concerns about transportation in Southeast Alaska, and we need to hear from you, DOT needs to hear from you," said Emily Ferry of SEACC.

Ferry narrated a slide show featuring photos of wildlife that SEACC says would be harmed by road construction. It also showed aerial shots of some of the 58 avalanche chutes that run along the east side of Lynn Canal.

She said the avalanche hazard index for the road would rate more than three times higher than what is considered "very dangerous."

"This road would be the most dangerous road in America," Ferry said. "On the avalanche rating scale, 100 is considered very dangerous, and this road would score a 369."

But Reuben Yost, regional environmental director for DOT, said that number misrepresents the potential danger of driving on the road during winter. Yost, who attended the SEACC forum, said the 369 figure represents the unmitigated hazards of building the road.

Yost said avalanche-prevention methods would reduce that number drastically. The state likely would close the road temporarily in the winter and use explosives to set off avalanches, he said.

Juneau resident Dean Williams, who was introduced as a "resident avalanche expert," said the threat of avalanches would keep the road closed for most of winter.

"We're experiencing a relatively warm cycle right now. ... I call this kind of a sucker year because people say, 'Don't worry about it because there are no real avalanches there right now,' " Williams said.

Williams, an 85-year Juneau resident, said he has observed avalanches in Southeast closely over the years and in the 1930s helped start the Juneau Ski Patrol, but acknowledged that he is no expert in the field.

"It's really more of a hobby for me," he said after the forum.

Jim Bentley, a former DOT administrator and engineer who sat on the SEACC panel, said the project cost would be much higher than the $230 million price tag offered by DOT in 1997. He estimated it would be closer to $300 million.

Yost said DOT would update the construction cost as part of completing the draft environmental impact statement.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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