The Supreme Court decision allowing the original mining tailings disposal plan to Lower Slate Lake - and thus green lighting the start-up of the Kensington mine - is cause for celebration. For the first time in years, Juneau will enjoy real economic development that adds new jobs.
This is an opportunity for Juneau rarely enjoyed, and begs the question: How will the community use this springboard for a better future?
The Kensington Gold Mine, while a fundamental cornerstone of our economic future, is not going to reverse Juneau's economic reality alone. Substantive changes need to be made by the city to create an attractive environment for business. We need a twofold approach.
First, the city of Juneau must make an earnest effort to curb spending and become operationally efficient. I am not suggesting a massive work force reduction, but rather a measured reduction in overall city spending that does not further community hardship. Second, the Assembly should immediately begin changing public policy in a manner that encourages new business, job creation and departmental efficiency. This is a high hurdle in a community satisfied with process rather than results.
Since inception, Juneau has adopted ordinances to address public concern; there must be a framework of laws that create a livable, economically viable environment. However, like most cities those same ordinances, once in place, begin to impede development with a web of fees and restrictions. Over time, these mandates accumulate, becoming ever more burdensome. Ultimately they stifle the community's ability to grow.
Juneau is at a point where new investment in our community is choked by the cumulative effect of City and Borough of Juneau policies and departmental bureaucracy. These policies on their own seem reasonable, but cumulatively they stop business growth and job creation. This in turn diminishes tax revenues at a time when Juneau is building public infrastructure, thus creating new budget demands.
To balance the city budget and reinvigorate Juneau, we must unshackle business by repealing development restriction policies (such as the parking ordinance, building height restrictions, sub-division infrastructure and bonding requirements, and business personal property tax). Policies overseeing community development and the lack of CBJ departmental coordination and board accountability must be addressed by the Assembly in a timely, straight forward manner.
This is in no way a complete list, but is a substantive start and is one that will begin to turn our community from unintentionally discouraging business to a community open for business.
Bruce Abel is a Juneau resident and is president of Don Abel Building Supply.