Critics rally against the road

Governor's press secretary calls protest 'hysteria' from the anti-development crowd

Posted: Friday, April 15, 2005

Anti-road activists rang Gov. Murkowski's doorbell in Juneau on Thursday, but he wasn't home.

About 80 Southeast Alaska residents displeased with the governor's multi-million new road proposals lofted signs and a banner proclaiming "No to the roads: Stop Murky's Madness" at the governor's mansion and on the Capitol steps.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Murkowski's roads have got to go," the protestors - hailing from Haines, Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan - chanted while they stood on the Capitol steps at noon.

When the activists marched to the mansion and chanted slogans there, a couple of guards appeared but did not confront them.

"The governor wasn't in Juneau today, but I'm sure had he been there, he would have walked out in the crowd and shaken their hands," said Becky Hultberg, the governor's press secretary.

"Today, you just saw a lot of hysteria from the same people who oppose any new development to move this community (Juneau) and Alaska forward," Hultberg said.

In a series of rapid-fire speeches on the Capitol steps, the protesters blasted the governor's Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan, which includes a proposed $281 million road from Juneau to Skagway, a $315 million Gravina Bridge in Ketchikan, and a $150 million Sitka Access Road across Baranof Island.

"I'm very partial to traveling by boat," said Mike Sallee, a Gravina Island resident who, like the other protesters, favored improving the state ferry system rather than building new roads.

Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, didn't attend the rally but said later in the day that ferries aren't as cheap or convenient for Alaska travelers as a road will be, at least in Lynn Canal. "The road will give us the best access we can get."

"There's a lot of benefit from new roads," Hultberg said, listing improved access to health care and economic and educational opportunities.

The state's plan includes 34 transportation and utility routes throughout Southeast Alaska.

It's not the first time that Southeast Alaska communities have been threatened by an ambitious road network proposal, said KJ Metcalf, a former Forest Service employee, in a rally speech. "It's still a bad idea," he said.

He said Southeast Alaska is riddled with logging roads that have damaged wildlife habitat. Those roads should be fixed "before spending another dollar on more roads," he said.

Sitka resident Gabe Swinney said residents of his city oppose the governor's proposed road crossing Baranof Island by a margin of 2-to-1.

"I sincerely doubt we've been listened to at all," Swinney said.

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