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Pro-road advocates form group to counter opponents

Residents feel pressure in prospect of new administration

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006

"Citizens Pro-Road" sounds more professional than the "Road Gang," admits Juneau residents Dick Knapp and Rich Poor.

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The former won out as the new name of their 20-plus member group that has met weekly for a year to discuss ways to educate the public, inform the media and lobby lawmakers on building a proposed highway out of Juneau.

Members of the advocacy group say the pressure is on now that Alaska will see a new administration at the end of the year and the two main gubernatorial candidates have not taken a clear position on the road-ferry plan, Poor said.

"I'm just afraid this is our last shot," he said.

Citizens Pro-Road, or CPR, will be a subcommittee of the local group First Things First, an organization that is incorporated and in the process of being recognized by the federal Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit.

First Things First grew out of Juneau voters' concern last year about the costs of a proposed aquatic center in the Mendenhall Valley and now advocates for transparency in government. It favors the state's plan to build the road-ferry link from Juneau to Skagway and Haines, said Neil MacKinnon, the group's secretary.

Previously, the Road Gang was an informal group of individuals working alone toward the same goal, Knapp said.

"We wanted to change the name to not only give it class, but more catch," Knapp said.

The group also wants to seek funding in the future, Knapp said. The Citizens Pro-Road receives no funding from First Things First; any money that is used, such as funds to print materials, is paid out of the member's pockets, Knapp added.

Knapp and Poor said their group wants to counter efforts of organizations against the road - specifically the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, run by Juneau resident Emily Ferry. The Alaska Transportation Priorities Project is sponsored by the Alaska Conservation Foundation and individuals, with Ferry as the only paid worker.

Ferry said her group tries to educate the public on the highway-ferry link plan so that people are not left with only one source - the pro-road Murkowski administration.

The state plans to build a 50.8-mile road on the east side of North Lynn Canal to the Katzehin River, where the state also plans to construct a shuttle terminal to connect vehicles with Haines and Skagway. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is seeking a permit for its project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it breaks ground.

Opponents of the state's project worry about the footprint the route may leave on the environment and the potential of avalanches in the winter. And the $258 million to be spent on the road-ferry combo could be used on other road needs in the state or making Southeast Alaska's ferry system more affordable and convenient, they say.

Citizens Pro-Road members maintain the road-ferry link would be a cheaper option and more reliable for drivers. It also would alleviate a need for running boats up and down the Lynn Canal, and more state funds would be available to assist other ferries throughout the state.

"This is the most important thing Juneau can do in the foreseeable future," Poor said.

Knapp is a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and Poor is a retired department official. Both said they spend several hours a week reviewing the issue.

Citizens Pro-Road has the backing of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and its executive director Cathie Roemmich attends its meetings.

Possible ways for the road supporters to educate the public will include writing letters to newspapers, running radio and print advertisements and speaking to the media on road issues, MacKinnon said.

"Editors like to have legitimate organizations to speak with," he added.

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



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