The issues in the upcoming city and state elections are the cost of living, the availability of low-income housing, the inability to retain our youth and access to Juneau.
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I firmly believe building a road out of Juneau will help all of these issues. The question a voter has to ask is, have these issues gotten better or worse under the leadership of Mayor Bruce Botelho? Do we have anything to show other than committee meetings and studies?
We are as close to building a road as we have ever been after 50 years of surveys and studies, and Botelho has come out in favor of stopping progress under the guise of building a second crossing to Douglas Island, which I agree we also need. The problem being, if the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and other environmental groups are so against putting a road through Berners Bay and are fighting any runway expansion or tree cutting at the airport, what do you think they are going to do if we put a causeway and bridge to north Douglas through the wetlands? I know they are studying the potential site for a crossing, but if the lawsuits and lack of action resemble anything like the road, it will be 20-plus years before a final study is complete for public comment.
The road is on the verge of happening - real action that is so rare in this community. The Alaska Legislature has pledged $45 million toward the road and has served notice that the operating cost of the ferry system is out of hand for the few Alaskans it serves. Current surveys have been completed for the first phase, and permitting is almost completed at a huge cost.
On the statewide campaign, one has to ask: What did former Gov. Tony Knowles do to improve access to Juneau and all of Southeast Alaska? He stopped the environmental impact statement on the road to Skagway, and he bought a fast ferry that can't operate more than six months a year. The last mainline ferry, the Kennicott, came on line during his administration in 1998 and was built for $80 million using oil spill response money from the federal government. What do you think a mainline ferry would cost today? Remember the original three ferries were built 46 years ago. The Le Conte, which can only run 12 hours a day, was built 33 years ago, and the Columbia was built 32 years ago. His answer to our problems is to "look at the west side of Lynn Canal" for road access. In other words, another study. That access was surveyed in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
The really sad thing is Juneau's current senator, Kim Elton, was right there with Knowles pushing for these decisions and against the current access project. The only guarantee with the West Lynn Canal road is that we will have a longer ferry ride than with the proposed road up the east side, and most importantly, we will never have a chance of a completed road out of Juneau. The road to Skagway can eventually be built under the right circumstance. Whatever your feelings about Gov. Frank Murkowski, remember if Knowles hadn't stopped the EIS, I believe we would have had our road well under construction and it would have cost a lot less than it will now. If we study it for four more years, it will cost even more.
I have known Botelho and Sen. Elton since childhood and like them both personally. But what has been done to alleviate the primary issues facing Juneau except to study them to death and support grandiose projects that always run over budget causing the cost of living to rise once again? Good intentions are not the same as good results. We don't need another study, we need action.
Bottom line, nothing current has been done toward a west canal link, and we don't have a site picked for the second crossing so we can start studying the impact. For once, let's get something positive done for the community as a whole before only rich old folk are left to turn out the lights.
Tim Whiting is a Juneau resident.