My turn: North Douglas Causeway Proposal significantly improves emergency response capability

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2010

Today, the Assembly will choose whether to give the people of Juneau the right to decide to build the North Douglas Crossing.

The question on the ballot will be to extend, not increase, 1 percent of the existing 5 percent sales tax, to fund this much-needed access to the northern end of Douglas Island. This new crossing will provide increased safety, create jobs both during the three-to-five year construction phase and after completion, improve recreation access, and will be environmentally responsible.

After approval by the voters, it will be subject to an extensive federal permitting process. The project will also allow for use of the channel by most boats that are currently using it until glacial rebound and sedimentation close it completely in the not too distant future.

This project has been in the planning phase for 35 years. During that time, numerous studies and millions of dollars have been spent to no avail. This project is going nowhere unless the people of Juneau make it their own. The federal and state governments will simply not pay to build this for us. This, in fact, is an affordable project for Juneau and will allow other capital projects to continue with other components of the 5 percent sales tax.

My primary interest in this project is driven from being a fire department volunteer responder in Juneau since the early 1970s and being closely involved with emergencies since then. I've seen both lanes of Egan Drive and the North Douglas Highway shut down due to structure fires and motor vehicle accidents, as well as the main access to town shut off by a leaking propane tank truck on its side.

I work on the emergency plans and instruct the specialized Capital City Fire and Rescue Teams that, among other things, prepare for avalanche or mud slide response. A lot goes into considering how responders will provide rescue, respond to medical and fire emergencies, maintain order and support one another when access to the hospital and other emergency resources is cut off.

Response times matter; when a child is choking, when smoke is pouring from your neighbor's houses, when cardiac arrest or stroke occur or when an outdoor recreationist is unresponsive, every minute counts. This isn't window dressing, this is real life, everyday stuff that happens here and quick access to emergency treatment and rapid transport to an advanced life care facility is our primary goal. Our police and fire departments are stretched over a large area and anything that reduces driving time improves each and every citizen's chance for a positive outcome in an emergency situation.

Proponents of the crossing are asking the democratic process be allowed to run its course by putting the option on the Oct. 5 ballot. Moving forward provides opportunity for debate over the next six weeks and eventually it lets the people decide.

• Reifenstein is a S.A.F.E. Committee member, 41-year Juneau resident, Capitol City Fire and Rescue Special Teams Captain and the General Manger of the Mount Roberts Tramway.

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