Haines seeking a voice on road

Officials feeling left out of the loop ask state for inclusion

Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Haines Borough is feeling stranded along the side of the road when it comes to the building of the Juneau access highway, officials said.

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Lee Heinmiller, chair of the Haines Planning Commission, said the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has not involved the northern Lynn Canal town in the process of extending the Juneau road to a ferry terminal north of the Katzehin River.

Because of the lack of communication and involvement between Haines and the state, the commission drafted a letter to DOT/PF Commissioner Mike Barton on June 22 at its regular meeting.

"A lot of the commissioners' concerns were based on the lack of planning as far as involving everybody in the loop," Heinmiller said.

The Planning Commission took the draft of the letter before the Haines Borough Assembly on Tuesday for action.

"We met on Tuesday and the borough Assembly voted to send out a letter," mayor Fred Shields said.

The draft has been altered since it was brought before the Assembly.

"The letter that the Planning Commission had come up with was hard, and the borough Assembly has softened the letter and we're asking DOT to keep us in the loop," Shields said. "We will authorize local and state authority to stay in the loop."

Heinmiller said that as rumors progressed about the impending construction of the project, the people of Haines were kept in the dark.

"We kept wondering, 'When are they ever going to ask us?,'" he said.

Mal Menzies, Southeast regional director for DOT/PF, said the state has not been seeking local concurrence with the cities of Haines or Skagway because the project has been broken up into phases. The phase they are focusing on now is a 23-mile section through land owned by the city of Juneau.

"Until the project reaches the Haines Borough we will not be asking for local concurrence," he said. "Local concurrence is based on the final design plans for our project and we're not there yet."

Menzies said he made an offer to the cities of Skagway and Haines to visit the communities and give a presentation of the plans for the project.

"At that time the Haines Borough said they would get back to me and never did," he said.

Menzies said Skagway took him up on the offer. He said it is still on the table for Haines.

"I'm still more than willing to come up and brief the Assembly or brief a joint session between the Assembly and the Planning Commission," Menzies said.

Heinmiller said money has been diverted for road maintenance and repair in Haines, and that it is long overdue.

"Everyone is still concerned that the money for the Juneau road is going to continue sucking up money for infrastructure here," he said.

He said the road between Haines and its ferry terminal needs work, as does the road between the city and the Canadian border. A winter storm also caused significant damage to a road near Mud Bay.

"That major storm back in November did half a million dollars in one spot," Heinmiller said. "It's rolling into August and they still haven't repaired that yet."

Shields said the citizens of Haines, like those of Juneau, appear to be split on whether the state should proceed with the Juneau access highway.

Heinmiller said he hopes the letter to DOT/PF will generate more involvement in the democratic process for the people of Haines and Skagway. "I would hope that they would at least feel obligated to include the municipalities in the loop," he said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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