The proponents, namely, the Safe, Affordable, Future, Efficient group, with support from CBJ's West Douglas Development Working Group and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, are in favor of extending by 10 years the 1 percent temporary sales tax in hopes of funding construction of a bridge from a point on Egan Drive near Vanderbilt Hill Road to a point on north Douglas Island.
This would bisect the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, an environmentally responsible creation of the state legislature of 1976.
I'm strongly opposed to voting for the second-crossing proposition should the Assembly vote to place a proposition on the October ballot, for the following reasons:
A sales tax is an unjust and regressive tax. It is one that is least harmful to the wealthy and most burdensome to the poor and the middle classes, especially when applied to food, clothing and home heating. Juneau is already an expensive place to live without adding on an additional burdensome sales tax extension, just so a relative few may have another option when accessing Douglas Island. We are a small community with a finite tax base, though our wants can be viewed as exceeding our needs.
City development should not be considered at the expense of our unique environment. Quite likely it can't be done legally, since the intentional altering and/or filling-in of wetlands, without careful consideration of granting permits represents a violation of federal law and specifically, the U.S. Clean Water Act. The wetlands found in and around Juneau are truly a scarce geological feature and they act as a constant and reliable natural filtering system, one that provides clean water and maintains the proper good health of thousands of species of wildlife, including Homo sapiens, within this vast web of life.
Further, it serves as a sheltering nursery for countless millions of larval and immature marine creatures providing food for thousands of migratory water and land birds, as well as numerous mammals as they progress in their cyclic movements to the north and to the south.
No one can know for certain what will happen to such a unique wetlands system and its clockwork ebb and flow of life-enriching tidal waters when and if a causeway is constructed completely through it. No comprehensive studies have been done and no engineer, be they bridge or otherwise, can possible know solely from computer generated models. The dynamics of any wetlands system is not well understood even by professional hydrologists. Therefore, it is especially unfamiliar when viewed from the vantage point of the land developer or a strictly promotional interest of a local chamber of commerce.
And then there is the whole reality factor of money. How much will such a causeway cost in terms of permits, designs, consultation fees, materials and labor construction costs plus inevitable inflation? Are the causeway promoters talking about $70 to $100 million or more? And what year are we looking at, as that will add to and not subtract from the total costs? Thunder Mountain High School was cheaper and was mostly floated on state funding.
Since the city's second-crossing promoters believe they can do this all-time-high-costing project by levying more sales taxes on an already tax burdened population, then will the Assembly please tell me how all other priorities will be done? These include affordable housing, road repair, needed health and social services programs, improved harbors and more efficient and convenient public transportation?
This list of community needs goes on and on, but groups of stubbornly adamant causeway promoters aren't listening, since they are all plain wanting a second crossing, a potentially environmentally ruinous bridge to - well, nowhere really - one that will shave off all of perhaps six minutes and as many miles from the existing bridge time and distance for accessing Douglas Island.
In conclusion, the Assembly, and other interested parties, should take a much harder and a considerably more responsible look at promoting this second-crossing causeway bridge to Douglas Island. Please do this prior to the October ballot proposition and then ax it for what it is - a want and not a need.
Alan Munro has been a Juneau resident for nearly 39 years.
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