My turn: Issues raised against Sunny Point Crossing don't stand up to scrutiny

Posted: Sunday, September 19, 2010

The North Douglas Crossing opponents say they support a crossing, except for a few issues they have with Proposition 2 (please see Wayne Regelin's My Turn on page A7 of Friday's Empire). Let's examine those issues.

First, they claim to support options outside the refuge. One such option is a bridge at Salmon Creek, which is more environmentally damaging than Sunny Point, plus its proximity to the current bridge fails to meet almost all project objectives. Another such option is beyond the airport, which is vastly more expensive and environmentally damaging, and again fails to meet the project's purpose and need. These are DOT's conclusions as documented in the 2005 Project Development Summary Report.

They also state that Vanderbilt Hill is a better option. It's true that a 2007 poll indicated support for this location. But the poll failed to inform respondents that Sunny Point would soon have a $35 million advantage once the overpass was built. The Always Say No crowd supports a Vanderbilt crossing if it is a bridge, but that would cost $150 million to $200 million, according to how Regelin states project costs.

Regelin incorrectly states that allocating the 1 percent sales tax extension leaves no money for other projects. In fact, of the 5 percent sales tax we currently pay, there is a second 1 percent component that also pays for capital projects. That component, up for renewal in 2012, is not currently allocated.

Regelin's group has called our cost estimate "dishonest," They cite a figure of $135 million from a letter from Mayor Bruce Botelho, in which he assumes that we'd borrow the entire amount of the project up front using 25-year bonds. We think that assumption was incorrect and misleading, greatly overstating financing costs. Until we see how drawn out the permitting phase is, we don't know how much, if any, borrowing will be necessary. The 10-year sales tax is estimated to bring in $94 million dollars, so if there are additional costs to borrow money, they are already funded.

Our cost estimate was professionally prepared by an experienced local engineer, it was reviewed and validated by the City and Borough of Juneau Engineering Department, and it is consistent with Alaska Department of Transportation estimates. Does Regelin think that all of these people part of our dishonest conspiracy?

Regelin's group also claims that federal dollars are available for this project. Wrong again. I've served on a project task force for many years. My meetings with dozens of city, state and federal officials, elected and otherwise, offered no real hope of outside funding. Even when Alaska had power and seniority in Washington, D.C. during the Stevens, Young and Murkowski days, this project didn't get funded. Stimulus money gushed out of Washington, but there was no funding for this project. DOT dropped it from their list of projects four years ago, and when it was on the list, it ranked near the bottom of their priorities. The approach of holding out our hands and waiting for someone else to pay for this has a proven, 35-year track record of failure. Given current political and economic conditions, now we should expect outside funding to miraculously appear?

This project must go through a rigorous review process, which I believe will scientifically conclude the doomsday predictions of the Always Say No crowd will once again be proven to be overblown. In fact, DOT concluded that Sunny Point is one of the options that best avoids the highest-valued areas of the wetlands. It avoids bird hotspots, areas of greater tidal flow, and is in the area of the wetlands that will be first to be converted to meadows and spruce trees by glacial rebound. Regelin asserts that the project could not be permitted. Tell that to all the contractors working on the airport project today. Regelin's group's public statements that the Safe, Affordable, Future, Efficient committee is trying to avoid the permitting process are absolutely false.

Regelin's statements opposing this very needed project lack integrity and facts. I'd hoped to have a civil and rational debate on this important issue, but the only opposition group has chosen the low road. Don't be fooled, Juneau. Facts do not cease to exist just because one chooses to ignore them.

Vote yes on 2 on Oct. 5. Learn more at www.northdouglascrossing.com

• Shattuck is a fourth-generation Juneau resident, a member of the mayor's West Douglas Development Work Group task force, and Chair of the S.A.F.E. Committee.



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