$15 million bond package proposed

Plan would benefit harbors, water and sewer systems

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Juneau voters will see a $15 million bond proposition for harbor projects and water and sewer improvements on the October ballot.

The Juneau Assembly on Monday voted 6-3 to place the measure before voters Oct. 1. The bulk of the money would go to harbor projects, including $3.25 million for a commercial-vessel loading facility at Auke Bay, $3.5 million for Douglas Harbor, and $2.5 million for Aurora and Harris harbors downtown.

The package also includes funding for a North Tee Harbor water line, sewer improvements at Third Street in Douglas, water and sewer lines at the Juneau Airport, a park in West Juneau, and upgrades to the Eaglecrest Ski Area lodge.

The bonds would be issued for 20 years. Debt service would increase property taxes $47 a year for each $100,000 in assessed value, according to the city.

Much of the discussion on Monday centered on a commercial-vessel loading facility planned for the Auke Bay area. The facility would be set aside for commercial fishermen, sportfishing and whale-watching charters and freight companies, reducing pressure on Statter Harbor in Auke Bay, according to Docks and Harbors Board Chairman Dick Knapp.

The Docks and Harbors Department is working on plans for the facility, which Knapp said would be a catalyst for the local economy.

"Basically what this is doing is setting up a commercial port," he said.

But Assembly member Ken Koelsch, who cast the only vote in favor of removing the project from the bond package, said he was uncomfortable with a lack of information about the project.

Assembly member Don Etheridge, who advocated for the entire bond package, said the city's capital budget wasn't big enough to handle pressing needs in the community. The city has long waiting lists for space at its harbors, Tee Harbor residents have been waiting for a water line extension for years, and Third Street in Douglas is a "disaster waiting to happen," he said.

"We're just not moving forward with things we need to be moving forward with," he said.

Assembly member Jim Powell, who voted against putting the package before voters, said the projects have merit, but he was concerned about the timing of the proposal. The city is facing a vote on a legislative move this fall, he said.

"It's probably the wrong time and probably the wrong message to send to voters," he said. "It's important to look at the community as a whole and other things before us."

Powell also said waiting a year might give the city more information about Juneau's bid for the Arctic Winter Games and projects that might be needed if Juneau is selected to host the 2006 games.

Assembly member Marc Wheeler said he, too, was supportive of the projects in the package, but was worried about promising to spend money with a statewide legislative-move vote pending. He said he also was concerned about the size of the property tax increase.

"I'm personally hopeful about what's going to happen in November, but you never know," he said.

But Assembly member Dale Anderson said the city was in a position to take advantage of favorable interest rates.

"This decision will be made by voters and they may choose not to do it," he said. "If we bottle it up and not let it go forward, we're doing voters a disservice."

Etheridge, Anderson, Koelsch, Mayor Sally Smith, Jeannie Johnson and Randy Wanamaker voted in favor of the bond package. Frankie Pillifant joined Powell and Wheeler in voting no.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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