Empire editorial: A call to unity

Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2001

Since members of the Juneau business community have come forth to vocalize their concerns about economic future of Juneau, the town has been engaged in a lively discussion with itself.

The alarm bells went off when Mayor Smith revealed that polling done through the Alaska Committee portrayed the coming legislative move initiative as being an uphill battle.

The business community has pointed to the anti-everything perception that Juneau has created for itself as a stifling malaise that may someday strip the town of its status as the state's center of government.

A guest editorial by business leaders Lorene Kappler and Dan Johnson noted that the official community response has been to say no to timber, no to mining, no to a road, while attempting to hobble tourism, airport improvements, the construction of a golf course and many other progressive ideas that most communities would openly welcome.

Kappler and Johnson are representative of a growing number of local business people who are concerned enough about their future to question the wisdom of sinking more of their sweat and money into a community they care about deeply. This is an alarm bell we all need to heed.

Lance Miller of JEDC offered statistics that show that wages in Juneau have declined significantly in comparison with the rest of the state and the nation. A community that ceases to offer opportunity for future generations is a community in decline.

The liberal camp is surprised and confused at this sudden show of colors by the business community. Some voices have decried the comments made in the paper as demonizing the environmental movement. Others have attacked editorials in the Empire that are pro access and pro economic development.

The ensuing debate has taken place in kitchens, meeting rooms, coffee shops and on street corners and bars. Commentary from all points of the compass has been carried on this page. The venting has been therapeutic. As a community we are getting long pent-up feelings off of our collective chest.

Now it's time to step back and take a reality check. All points of view should be heard and respected. Kappler and Johnson are not condemning the environmental community. Editorials in the Juneau Empire have not demonized the environmental movement. The debate is not about the environment; it is about the economic future of Juneau.

Most everyone is concerned about the environmental health and quality of life that is unique to Juneau. Few people want to see this town increase dramatically in size and become more congested than it already is. For a lot of reasons, Juneau has a limited capacity for growth. Juneau will not reach its economic potential if its environmental assets are degraded.

But reasonable, manageable economic growth is necessary for Juneau to move forward.

Some positive things have emerged from the current debate. Residents from both ends of the political spectrum want to see Juneau unified in its efforts to retain the Capitol. The whole state knows what Juneau is against, but there is growing momentum to build consensus on a few progressive ideas that Juneau can rally behind.

Improved access to the state's capital and improvements to the existing Capitol complex are two proactive causes that will register loudly with the rest of the state.

It may seem like a small gesture, but if we could simply build a golf course after four years of inertia, a positive message would be sent.

Local residents from all political affiliations agree that Juneau needs to deepen its ties with our Southeast neighbors and think regionally. We have some wounds to heal with our neighbors, but Juneau has tremendous support throughout Southeast Alaska. The recent McDowell ferry study shows that Juneau is widely supported as the hub of the region. Juneau should recognize its place as both a transportation hub and a center for commerce.

Improved transportation is the key to our economic future.

These topics will be at the center of the debate in the coming elections. Our future will be in the hands of those we choose to serve. We urge everyone to pay close attention to the candidates and their views and, when the time comes, be sure to vote!

Don Smith


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