My Turn: Do the right thing with public funds

Posted: Thursday, August 08, 2002

A world-class NOAA/NMFS/ UAF research facility would be prestigious for Juneau if it's done right. The recent news stories about insufficient funds for this project may be a blessing in disguise.

Here are the facts:

• $1.745 million in federal taxpayer funds were originally allocated to the CBJ for the sole purpose of mitigating traffic impacts caused by the NOAA facility to be constructed at Lena Point.

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• Close to $1 million in federal funds have been disbursed to the CBJ for planning, design and environmental permitting efforts for the new roadway. $850,000 intended for construction phases of the project remains to be disbursed to the CBJ from NOAA.

• NOAA is now asking CBJ to halt the road work.

• The new roadway does not fully mitigate traffic impacts to the neighborhood nor have most of the residents endorsed the roadway alignment now under construction.

• Road construction has begun in the Lena Loop area.

• A new residential subdivision along the new roadway is planned by the CBJ. This subdivision will be done in several phases. Ultimately the subdivision may result in up to 200 new lots.

• An additional CBJ expenditure of $700,000 (more of your property tax dollars) has been authorized by the CBJ to construct sewer collection and water distribution utilities for the new subdivision. The sewage disposal for the new subdivision is planned to be individual home treatment plants connected to a community marine outfall similar to the failed Bonnie Brae Subdivision system. The outfall will discharge directly in front of many existing homes. The new sewage disposal system will not service any of the existing residences.

• The residents of Lena Loop road have never fully endorsed the roadway or the NOAA facility complex. The land is zoned residential and a big office complex does not belong in a quiet residential neighborhood.

• The new NOAA facility does not consolidate anything in Juneau. During the EIS process, a grander facility was envisioned that made some sense in that it would consolidate multiple NOAA offices. Due to budget cuts to the project, the facility was drastically down-sized from 150,000 square feet to 69,000 square feet. The reality is that only the existing Auke Bay Lab employees will be relocated to Lena Point. These employees will have to drive an additional six miles to work where there are no public facilities, lunch areas or convenience stores. Critical freshwater research is presently carried out in Auke Creek and NOAA needs the continued use of its dock in Auke Bay. By relocating to Lena Point, research personnel will have to drive back and forth between Auke Bay and Lena Point to accomplish their daily tasks.

From the get go, it appears to the knowledgeable observer that CBJ has flexed this plan to its advantage and used the NOAA project federal funds to mostly pay for access to and through a proposed subdivision on CBJ-owned land. If this continues, it is a misuse of federal funds. Additionally, the CBJ has used local public funds to facilitate installation of sewer and water utilities with no added benefit to the existing residents. There are several established areas on the existing Juneau road system without proper utilities. Why is the CBJ so determined to develop the subdivision when the Juneau MLS is full of unsold listings and other CBJ lands in presently more developed areas are available for fund disbursement?

With the NOAA project on hold, the purpose and need for the road no longer exists. Therefore, the road project must be re-permitted through the public process if the CBJ plans to continue construction of the roadway and accompanying subdivision. For the CBJ to continue to build this road in the hope that NOAA will one day resume the Lena project is wrong, and perhaps illegal.

What to do?

1. Cancel subdivision plans until a comprehensive plan has been developed for the entire region. The comprehensive plan must include all future development plans for the north Lena Point region.

2. Halt construction on the NOAA road until NOAA has determined if/where the new research facility will be constructed.

3. Seriously reconsider upgrading the existing Auke Bay Lab site. Solicit the comments of the present NOAA staff for input on the optimal location to accomplish their work.

Now is the time to stop this madness and do the right thing.

Jo Boehme of Juneau is a member of the Lena Extended Neighborhood Association.

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