My Turn: We are doing the right thing with funds

Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

While the recent announcement by NOAA that it was rejecting the high construction bids was a setback, there are plenty of opportunities to keep the Lena Point project on track. The fact remains that Lena Point is an excellent location to serve the needs of NOAA and the University of Alaska. The new NOAA/National Marine Fisheries/University of Alaska joint facility at Lena Point will be the largest public facility to be constructed in Juneau in recent history. An excellent research and education facility of this magnitude will be a significant asset to the community.

The City and Borough of Juneau is committed to assisting NOAA in successfully developing this world-class facility. At NOAA's request, the city purchased the former Secon rock quarry with $4 million of local tax dollars. The city constructed a $2 million water reservoir that will not only serve NOAA and Lena Point, but will provide sufficient water to extend our water system to North Tee Harbor. Additionally, at the insistence of Lena residents, the city contributed over $1 million towards the construction of a 1.2-mile access road to ensure that the existing Lena Loop Road and Lena residents were not impacted. Both the proposed laboratory facility and the road underwent the detailed scrutiny of the environmental review process. As part of that review, the public was invited to examine three alternative routes as well as an option to upgrade the existing road. Local residents favored a new, separate road. In selecting the preferred route, the city chose the route with the best and safest grade for year-round access. These attributes also make it a very functional road for a new subdivision.

A residential subdivision at Lena Point is consistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan and Land Management Plan. The city selected 185 acres in the center of Lena Point in 1982 for future residential expansion. In 1995 the Planning Commission and Assembly determined that a residential subdivision should be built at that location.

Lena Point is a very attractive area. The proposed development will fit in with, and will not harm, the existing character of the neighborhood. While many Lena Point residents are reluctant to see any development, there is considerable interest by other residents in the community to have an opportunity to purchase a residential lot in that location. While zoning allows up to three houses per acre, the proposed subdivision will have oversized lots, averaging one acre in size. The city will time the subdivision project so that lots are developed and sold incrementally as the market dictates. Approximately 100 lots are planned for the city's 185 acres. Over 50 acres will be set aside as a permanent greenbelt. Based on the experience of other subdivisions in Juneau, such as Bayview and Montana Creek, it may take many years for the subdivision to fully develop.

It does not make sense for the city to stop the road project that is under way. Over $1.2 million already has been spent on the project, and terminating or delaying the contract would result in substantial contract claims. We may very well spend as much money to cancel the project as it would take to complete it. The best strategy is to complete the road by next spring so that it can be used for the construction of the NOAA project and a residential subdivision.

The city remains committed to working with NOAA on making this world-class facility a reality. This project benefits the whole community and helps ensure a strong economic base and a bright future for Juneau. We have spent considerable public funds toward this project by purchasing a site for the NOAA facility, by purchasing land for the university's fisheries program, by constructing a separate access road to minimize the impacts on Lena residents, and by creating additional lots for needed residential expansion.

We are doing the right things with public funds.

John MacKinnon is interim city manager of Juneau.

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