City cool to road vote

Assembly split on ballot question

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The road out of Juneau may still go nowhere unless proponents can muster more Juneau Assembly support for another try at getting the issue before voters this fall.

Right now, sentiments on the assembly might be characterized as 3-3, and two mum. The panel will vote on the advisory measure at its Aug. 7 meeting.

Assembly member Don Etheridge Jr. asked city staff to formulate the advisory at the assembly's Monday night meeting and suggested the question be put to voters as simply as possible: Do they want a road out of Juneau -- yes or no?

Alaskans for Better Access, a pro-road group that no longer exists, made the same bid to the assembly last summer and failed after facing tepid assembly support and an environmental group's threat to mount a counter-initiative.

On Monday, members Frankie Pillifant and Jim Powell pummeled Etheridge with objections and possible alternative advisories -- including support for fast ferries and a road/ferry alternative for Cascade Point. They asked the city attorney to formulate an advisory that would include their alternatives, along with Etheridge's proposal.

Member Ken Koelsch echoed Etheridge's direction to city staff at Monday's meeting and asked for a simple question and a yes/no answer.

Member John MacKinnon chimed in on Tuesday with a condemnation of what he said was Gov. Tony Knowles assertion that the Juneau community doesn't support the road. The city should find out what the community does think, MacKinnon said.

``I've always supported a road out of here,'' said member Dwight Perkins this morning. ``The governor's interim solution is to get us through until we can get a road built.''

The more that is added to the advisory, however, the less he favors it, Perkins said. ``If Jim's proposal about Cascade Point and Frankie's proposal about the ferries get on the advisory, then I'm not going to support it.''

Perkins said during last summer's attempt by pro-roaders to put the issue on the ballot, ``If this referendum failed and the voters said they wouldn't support a road, we'd be in the difficult position of perhaps having to rescind our own support.''

Neither Mayor Dennis Egan nor member Cathy Munoz answered requests for information -- which leaves three members solidly for a simple, yes/no ballot advisory, two solidly against, and one conditionally against. The assembly comprises only eight members since Tom Garrett moved to Phoenix from Juneau.

The state Department of Transportation began a formal study to improve access to Juneau in 1992 and completed a draft environmental impact statement for the Lynn Canal road project connecting Juneau with Skagway and Haines in late 1997.

Earlier this year, Gov. Knowles announced his goal to drop the road as a state project -- at least for now -- and to focus on improving the marine highway system with fast ferries.

After five years and $5 million spent on the draft EIS, Knowles cut the process off by vetoing a legislative appropriation of $1.5 million to finish up the study.

``Etheridge is a day late and a dollar short,'' said Marine Engineers Beneficial Association Business Agent Greg O'Claray. MEBA represents marine engineers who work on the state ferry system.

``Why have it on a ballot?'' O'Claray said. ``I mean, it's not going to do anything. What Mr. Etheridge and the others need to do is to go find $400 million, because that's what it's going to take (for the road).''

O'Claray said, ``Getting everybody exercised about this is a waste of time, energy and testosterone.''

Marc Wheeler, grass-roots organizer for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, called the advisory ``silly.''

SEACC's threat to mount a counter-initiative offensive last summer helped put the kibosh on the pro-roaders' plan.

Haines and Skagway still oppose the idea, Wheeler said, and the governor has already made his decision. ``If they want to know what people think, why don't they just conduct a poll?''

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