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Business owners say city should not compete with the private sector

Group seeks to have city give up land to the private sector for home construction

Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2005

A group of small business owners gathered Friday at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon to speak about the city eating up business in various private sectors.

Over the years, tension and feuds have developed regarding gravel mining, trucking and land development and management. Friday's luncheon represented businesses from those industries.

Some of the cases where businesses find themselves competing directly with the city raise the issue of "whether or not a government should be getting into what is traditionally private practice," local attorney Robert Reges said.

The panel felt the city should give up some of its land and sell it to the private sector so homes or other facilities could be built. Former Juneau Assembly member Errol Champion said the city owns $1.8 billion worth of land, some of which collects no property taxes and could be released to the private sector.

"I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there that the city has a lot of good land," City Engineer Rorie Watt said. Ten years ago it was difficult for the city to find a sufficient plot of its own to build a new police station, he said.

The city owns quarries to supply rock for its own projects but it also sells rock to the public. Sales are not very frequent and they must be approved by the Assembly, Watt said.

Wayne Coogan, who has part ownership of the Montana Creek quarry, thinks this practice will squeeze companies like his out of business.

"I think in the next few years there won't be any privately owned gravel pits or rock quarries in Juneau," Coogan said.

The city continues to buy and operate quarries, while existing ones in the private sector are running out of materials and cannot find new places to dig, Coogan said.

Reges said this is an example of the city hurting the local economy by not privatizing public jobs and duties. Business leaders hope Juneau would keep enough rock for its projects and then sell the rest of the quarry to businesses.

"Juneau is going against the tide as far as I can see," said Reges, concerning the national push for government to privatize more industries.

Bruce Griggs, a home developer of a neighborhood near Lena Point, said building homes on property adjoining city-owned land has been like "climbing Mount Everest in the winter with no shoes on."

Calling the city his "competitor," Griggs said he spends lots of money on fees and obtaining permits.

The city spent $400,000 on wastewater pipes but was told by the Environmental Protection Agency that it could not use them in the marine outfall it designed.

Reges said the city is in a position to raise taxes to redevelop neighborhoods when it makes mistakes, where as a developer would not have that option.

City Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said the issues discussed were nothing new.

"I'm in favor of less government in all the areas where it's inefficient and impractical and unnecessary to be in," Wanamaker said.

He said the Assembly, with limited hours to make policy, needs the community to present intelligent solutions to these problems.

Jim Wilcox, of Glacier Lands, said in the coming weeks he and other business leaders will present such solutions to the city.

"We were out there to get the backing of the Chamber of Commerce," he said after the luncheon. "This is just the beginning."

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.



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