The Juneau Chamber of Commerce has maintained a deep and substantial interest in the general subject of access to the capital city for many years. Recently, access has come up in the form of the fast ferry proposal and the question of whether and how to continue the Juneau Access EIS. The chamber's board of directors met on April 13 to adopt the following. This position is based on a set of findings that can be found at our Website at www.juneauchamber.org.
The state began a formal study to improve access in 1992. The chamber participated extensively from the onset of the project, through the public review of the Draft EIS in the latter half of 1997, and to the present day. Since publication of that document, Gov. Knowles in January of 2000, announced his Transportation Jumpstart Initiative that is to be a special statewide list of transportation improvements. The list included a proposed fast ferry to serve Juneau, Skagway and Haines.
The chamber hosted a public meeting on March 16 to receive a presentation from Alaska Department of Transportation personnel on the fast ferry proposal and on Juneau access in general. Since then, the state has apparently reached agreement to continue monitoring environmental factors along Lynn Canal but has not committed to a full-scale resumption of work to complete the EIS. It is also clear that the governor's Transportation Jumpstart Initiative is not going to emerge from the Legislature.
The fast ferry idea could re-emerge through the regular capital budget during the next session, but there is otherwise no reason to hope for improved access and there is no public process underway to make such an improvement. Given this situation, the chamber of commerce takes the following position with regard to Lynn Canal access and fast ferry options:
The state should resume and complete the Juneau Access EIS. To withdraw from it altogether has the effect of wasting the money, over $5 million, that has already been spent. It would further have a chilling effect over any new effort to address Juneau access. Specifically, we believe that withdrawal from the current EIS process will have the result of condemning Juneau to the status quo forever. The recent agreement between DOT and the Federal Highway Administration to continue monitoring along the Lynn Canal corridor - as a form of continued planning - is not acceptable. This is simply a convenient way to avoid the real work of finishing the EIS and defer the issue.
Resumption and completion of the Juneau Access EIS should be carried out in a thorough, timely and professional manner. This is an important task and should be given the time and resources it deserves. Special effort should be made to provide substantial public involvement and economic analysis of the impact of various alternatives on the communities that will be affected by whatever solution is finally chosen. Whether the state proceeds with a Lynn Canal fast ferry or not - the opportunity to improve service by use of Cascade Point to operate the Malaspina (as well as the fast ferry) is too promising to ignore, especially on an interim basis. The state should initiate a parallel effort to enable construction of the road extension to a terminal at Cascade Point while the Juneau Access EIS completion process is underway.
The chamber urges all parties to base their thinking on DOT's crucial finding - doing nothing will cost $111 million in capital projects to maintain the Lynn Canal portion of the existing ferry service over the next 20 years. This is the cost against which all other alternatives should be compared. The maintenance and operations cost (net, after deducting ferry fares) of doing nothing is $1.9 million per year. The east Lynn Canal road option would have a capital cost that is over twice the do-nothing option, but would, with a toll, result in a positive cash flow for maintenance and operation. The road would actually make money that the state could use elsewhere.
If the state chooses to proceed with acquisition of a fast ferry to improve Lynn Canal service, and to do so while the Juneau Access EIS is underway, then the chamber urges that a formal and substantial public involvement process be instituted for establishing criteria to govern the project throughout the design and construction of the vessel.
In summary, the chamber will support a fast ferry improvement for Lynn Canal if, and only if, the Juneau Access project is resumed and completed in a timely, thorough, and professional manner. Including an early and substantial examination of the use of Cascade Point at least for interim ferry service and the fast ferry project itself is carried out with a meaningful public involvement.
George Davidson is the executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.