My Turn: Questions about NOAA project remain

Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2002

The recent media blitz regarding the Lena Point NOAA project deserves a response from the residents who will be most affected. It appears the NOAA project is a win-win situation for all involved; however, the facts are hidden in a mirage of politics. The real benefits of this project to Juneau may not be as great as they seem. All issues covered in Ms. Boehme's Aug. 8 My Turn are technically accurate and well founded.

Of immediate concern are CBJ's roadway construction activities that continue in spite of the NOAA project uncertainties. NOAA stated that a final decision on the project won't be made until Jan. 15. CBJ continues to build a road to nowhere. The real purpose of this road is CBJ's desire to construct a 100-plus-lot subdivision along the new alignment. The environmental and social impacts of this subdivision were never disclosed to the public nor considered in any previous EIS or EA studies.

The Lena residents expressed serious concerns but did endorse the existence of the NOAA facility at Lena Point provided that proper traffic mitigation would occur using federal funds specifically targeted for this purpose. CBJ conducted extensive public involvement efforts; however, residents of Lena Loop didn't agree with the chosen alignment and features of the roadway, and its construction will do little to mitigate future traffic problems. The Draft EA study published by CBJ contains 26 responses and a petition signed by 133 residents that directed CBJ to take other courses of action. Not one response favored CBJ's chosen alignment. As a result, our concerns remain.

NOAA's current funding shortfall should cause those responsible to question the placement of the NOAA facility at Lena Point. The Office of the Inspector General has evaluated this project on several occasions. In the OIG's Semiannual Report to Congress (March 31, 1994), the OIG found serious fault with NOAA's findings. The report states that NOAA has not substantiated the need for consolidation, did not properly evaluate alternatives to the new facility, and has not performed an adequate cost-benefit analysis demonstrating the benefits of the project. Consequently, the budget was reduced and NOAA proceeded with a much smaller project that doesn't consolidate NOAA offices at the Lena site. The project does little more than relocate the existing Auke Bay Lab employees to Lena Point.

Juneau needs to maintain the prestigious research capability and jobs provided by NOAA/NMFS. These are good jobs and modern fisheries research is critical in view of the waning commercial fishing industry; however, the Lena Point location is wrong for many reasons. The present ABL site has many advantages that the Lena site does not. These include access to both fresh and salt water, an offshore dock for NOAA's research vessels and access to bus lines and retail/food establishments. These amenities can never be duplicated at the Lena site.

We do not believe that any future jobs will be lost by not constructing at Lena Point. NOAA's $50 million project budget could easily be spent improving the ABL site creating the same number of short-term construction jobs.

Ideally, CBJ and NOAA officials should take a short pause to examine the issues at stake. We ask that all Juneau residents think about their own neighborhood and the consequences of 200-300 workers driving daily to and from the facility, not only to jobs but also for lunch, meetings and delivery services. (Don't forget the additional 100-plus homes in your neighborhood). A similar comparison might be the heliport facility proposed for Thane.

Previous letters allude to CBJ covering NOAA's budget shortfalls. We hope this issue will be put to a vote prior to allocating $12 million in Juneau taxpayer funds to this project when so many other Juneau projects are sorely needed such as the new high school, library, and Marine Park improvements.

In summary, we believe the best interests of the public have not been served. We advocate improvement and/or expansion of NOAA facilities in Juneau, but not at the Lena Point site. If the project must continue at Lena, then roadway, traffic and subdivision mitigation issues must be properly addressed by CBJ. In the short term, the current roadway construction activities should be stopped until such time that NOAA's final intentions are clarified. Without the NOAA facility, there is no purpose or need for this roadway other than to facilitate construction of a subdivision.

We urge you to make your own informed decision and address your comments and concerns to the NOAA officials listed in Mr. Smith's editorial. We also ask that you contact your Assembly members and congressional representatives and voice your opinion. Your neighborhood could be next.

Dennis Early and Dan Kassner contributed to this My Turn. Miller, Early and Kassner are concerned residents of Lena Point.



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