My Turn: DOT officials need to listen to the residents of Southeast

Posted: Monday, September 22, 2003

Anyone who has an opinion about the Juneau Access Project should be deeply disturbed by the lack of integrity of the process. This letter does not address which alternative is the best but addresses the overt bias shown by the DOT during the entire process. This has become evident during the past two DOT visits to Skagway.

An April scoping meeting was held to hear our concerns. Both sides of the debate were present and we all made our concerns known. That's what scoping meetings are for: listening to and addressing the concerns of the citizenry. Particularly disturbing was DOT's Rueben Yost stating that in reality it doesn't matter what the people of Skagway, Juneau and Haines think about this issue; if the governor wants this road then he'll get it. Regardless of where you stand, this is a disturbing revelation about the value the state places on the public process. We don't count. If our concerns on this issue, or any other, don't count, why bother getting involved, becoming informed, and caring about what happens to our region and to our communities.

The second meeting, Friday Sept. 5, DOT returned to update us on the SDEIS. This was a disheartening display of a process gone terribly awry. We've known all along the DOT's preferred alternative, but there is a difference between a preferred alternative and having only one alternative. Gary Paxton began by outlining his personal bias. He knows the value of roads and believes that the way out of the region's economic downturn is to build more roads. In fact this Juneau road is of great regional importance because it will boost the region's economy. If this road is of such regional importance then why were scoping meetings only held in Juneau, Skagway and Haines? Why was the fate of the Southeast put in so few hands? Mr. Paxton then gave us his personal assurances of the integrity of the process. I'm not sure if we would agree to the meaning of integrity.

During a discussion of the alternatives, Mr. Paxton informed us that the ferry system is outdated, inefficient and five ferries would have to be disposed of by 2010.The system does not work well and we should not expect it to get any better. Was this an admission by Mr. Paxton that DOT have allowed the ferry system to deteriorate and that they have stood idly by all these years without modernizing the fleet, updating the model by which the system operates and have institutionalized the inefficiencies in the system? If this is an admission then I believe that DOT must be held accountable. At this point I walked out of the meeting, angry and dejected; the public process was a sham. Even worse is that I had faith in the process, as nave as that may be. Let me tell you now: the process is dead.

Road or No Road, that used to be the issue for me; now the issue is whether the state and its agencies will begin treating the people of Alaska with the respect that we deserve. There are always opposing viewpoints on issues, we accept that and we embrace honest, public debate. All viewpoints have a validity that needs to be carefully and objectively assessed. When the integrity of any debate is violated then the reason for debate is gone and the process becomes an ethical liability.

There are roads that deserve the support of the people in Southeast Alaska. Roads such as the Bradfield Canal Road, that will have a positive economic benefit to the region; these are the roads we need to be supporting. Money is scarce at both the federal and state levels; let's get the biggest bang for our buck when we talk about developing the Southeast's economy. Let's honestly assess all of our options and chose those that economically benefit the greatest number of people per dollar spent.

Most of us live here because of the quality of life. My "quality of life" was diminished on Friday when I was told, yet again, that I don't count, and if I don't count then neither do you. The next time DOT comes to your community asking you to take part because they care about your concerns: Go fishing.

• Michael Catsi is the economic development director in Skagway and a city council member. He also sits on the economic development committees of AML and the Southeast Conference.



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