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There is currently before the Assembly a proposal to ask voters to renew, for at least another decade, the one percent temporary sales tax that is due to expire in 2013, and to apply all of those sales tax proceeds to build a fill causeway at Sunny Point. A video presentation of the sponsors' rationale for this project can be found at a webpage created by Brad Fluetsch at http://vimeo.com/13020981.
The proponents' estimated project costs are $70 million. Under the proposal, a Juneau family of three earning $70,000 a year would be paying, according to the IRS sales tax calculator, $190 a year in additional sales taxes (assuming the temporary one percent sales tax would otherwise expire) for at least 10 years to fund the causeway.
And, as City Finance Director Craig Duncan warned in an Aug. 3 memo to the Assembly, during that 10-year period the project could exhaust the Assembly's discretionary use of the sales tax, denying funding to other community projects that might be dependent on the sales tax - whether it be for a local contribution to a new state capitol or smaller projects on which moderate-sized local contractors might (unlike the causeway megaproject) be able to bid.
One could dwell at length on the financial and legal uncertainties surrounding this proposal, and on those issues I would recommend reading Mayor Botelho's thoughtful critique of the project at www.juneau.org/clerk/asc/fc/2010/documents/2010-07-26-Mayor_Botelho_re_North_Douglas_Crossing_Ballot_Proposution.pdf.
This letter, however, has a different motive. As the sales tax causeway debate begins, we would all profit by ridding ourselves of two misconceptions about the proposal, and that is what I am going to try to do here.
The first concerns funding for the project. One Assemblyperson, for example, has said the sales tax contribution is just the local seed money for the causeway, and that federal money will also be required.
That, however, is not the proposal that is now being considered. My understanding is that the purpose of this proposal is to avoid Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. That law places responsible limits on the use of federal transportation money to needlessly destroy valuable public recreation lands - a law that the project's proponents seek to avoid. But taking one penny of federal transportation money would implicate Section 4(f) and hence remove the raison d'être for this project altogether.
And so the money is coming from your pocket. All of it.
Second, could folks please stop calling this project a "bridge?" A bridge is a structure that spans a waterway or wetland. Throughout the country, responsible communities are building thoughtfully-designed bridges that actually compliment the surrounding landscape. As a supporter of a second crossing, that's the kind of project that I had in mind.
But this is not a bridge, much less a thoughtful one. It is a fill causeway, far more akin to a dam - splitting the refuge in two, leaving only modest-sized breaches to allow some water passage and navigation by small boats (clearance at high tide at the navigation breach will be only 16 feet). The project will make high-tide navigation by larger commercial boats impossible, destroy considerable prime hunting acreage by filling it in and likely alter the tidal flow of the entire refuge.
In sum, I understand, and indeed I share, the frustration over the lack of progress on a second crossing. But please don't take that frustration out on Juneau's already beleaguered treasury.
Tillinghast is a 36-year Juneau resident. He is a local attorney in private practice.