The state Department of Transportation held its first public meeting Tuesday night on plans by Gov. Frank Murkowski to move forward with completion of an environmental study of a road or other transportation link between Juneau, Skagway and Haines.
The meeting at the Mendenhall Mall was held in an open-house format with short presentations explaining how DOT will pursue completion of the environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Project.
The study was cut short in 2000 by former Gov. Tony Knowles, who decided to pursue fast-ferry service instead of a road. Knowles and DOT at that time had identified a 65-mile road up the east side of Lynn Canal connecting Juneau and Skagway as the preferred alternative. A day ferry would connect Skagway and Haines under that plan.
In December, Murkowski directed DOT to resume work on the EIS. Murkowski stated his support for road access in last fall's election.
Other options in the unfinished EIS include taking no action, building a road up the west side of Lynn Canal or pursuing one of four options for enhanced ferry service.
Reuben Yost of DOT said the department would pursue all options identified in the original study. He asked participants at the meeting to submit comments and concerns about the project to DOT by April 18.
"I'm already getting lots of comments in e-mail and writing where people are telling me, 'I don't like the road, I prefer fast ferries or vice-versa,' " Yost said. "That's nice to hear one way or the other but it doesn't really give me information or give our consultants information that helps them determine what studies we should be pursuing."
He said the McDowell Group, a Juneau consulting firm, would publish a report at the end of the month summarizing public and governmental comments on the project.
Yost said comments submitted to DOT will help determine the environmental and socioeconomic studies necessary to complete the EIS.
DOT will create a Web site and publish newsletters in the summer and fall to update those interested in the study. DOT expects the study to be complete and available for public comment in March 2004, Yost said.
Members of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a Juneau-based organization that has opposed road construction, turned out for the meeting and distributed fliers making the case against road construction. SEACC has argued a road project would be dangerous in the winter due to avalanche chutes that run along the east side of Lynn Canal. The group also contends that road construction would be harmful to wildlife and habitat on the construction site.
"The study will only be as good as the questions that are asked," said Emily Ferry of SEACC. "And this is the time to ask questions and show concern."
DOT will hold similar meetings tonight at the National Park Service building in Skagway and at the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines on Thursday.
Comments on the environmental impact study can be sent to: Reuben Yost, Alaska DOT/PF, 6860 Glacier Highway, Juneau, AK 99801.
Timothy Inkelbarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.