Candidates: No dock moratorium

Assembly seat contenders weigh in on cruise ship plans, Thane heliport

Posted: Monday, September 23, 2002

Most candidates for Juneau Assembly oppose a moratorium on new dock construction downtown, favoring the existing permitting process instead.

They also are concerned about the cost of proposed satellite heliports. The city is considering a proposal to move helicopter flightseeing tours from North Douglas to the Thane area based on the results of a survey completed last year.

Six people are running for three open seats on the Assembly. The election is Oct. 1.

The Assembly is considering a moratorium on new cruise ship dock construction downtown that would give the city time to work on a waterfront plan. The proposal could affect a private dock proposed for the rock dump south of downtown to accommodate longer cruise ships.

Stan Ridgeway, a Juneau School Board member who is running for the District 2 Assembly seat, said the entire community needs to have input into tourism decisions, not just special interests. He is not in favor of a moratorium on new dock construction downtown.

"The recommendation to put a moratorium on it and do another study is bureaucratic," Ridgeway said. "Juneau is pretty vocal. We can have some public input on the information and proceed with the appropriate approvals and build the dock."

Ridgeway said he's sympathetic to people who live close to proposed satellite heliports. He's interested in keeping operations near the airport and working with flightseeing operators on quieter technology, he said. In general, he'd like to see a cooperative approach to flightseeing issues.

"I think because it's been so divisive, people are so adamant about certain things because they feel that if they're not adamant, they won't be heard at all," he said. "That's part of what we have to change."

District 2 Assembly incumbent Don Etheridge said he supports a collaborative model for a new committee that will implement the city's long-range tourism plan.

"I think this is probably going to be our last shot to come up with something as far as a committee that will work," he said. "We need to take the time to do it right."

Etheridge doesn't support a moratorium on new dock construction and wants to give the normal permitting process a chance to work. He's waiting for more information before deciding if satellite heliports are needed, especially in the Thane area.

"If they complete the (environmental impact statement) and it comes back and shows that it is feasible then, yes, I would support it," he said. "But cost-wise I have some concerns. ... My preferred idea was we use the airport area. That's already designated for that type of industry."

As for other flightseeing restrictions, Etheridge said voluntary changes by operators have "made a major difference."

District 1 candidate and Juneau Planning Commissioner Merrill Sanford said he likes the idea of a new cruise ship dock, and doesn't think a moratorium on construction is necessary.

"I think there's plenty in our comprehensive plan, in our codes, plenty we have to go through in the permitting process that is already in place to where that project would have to come up to standards to be built," he said.

Sanford, who worked with helicopters in the military, said he's encouraged by flight operators' work to reduce noise by altering flight routes and altitudes. He has no problem with plans to study alternative heliports, but is concerned about the cost.

"It seems like no matter where you put a remote site, you're still going to end up on the glacier, flying over trails, so you are going to end up bothering some people," he said. "We're not going to get around that completely."

District 1 incumbent Frankie Pillifant said she voted against a moratorium on new cruise dock construction in committee because she is comfortable with the Planning Commission process. She said other communities have used moratoriums on building in similar situations to allow planning to catch up.

While she generally supports satellite heliports away from residential areas, Pillifant is not in favor of a Thane-area heliport as proposed because of neighborhood impacts.

"Satellite heliports, in general, to me make sense unless the industry is really going to pony up and get into quiet technology," she said. "If they suggested a separate road be built (to a heliport) at Dupont, maybe that would work."

As far as other possible flightseeing restrictions, Pillifant said she'd rather see a collaborative solution.

"I'm hoping that we come up with the solution because it came from a partnership trying to work through the issue with stakeholders - that would be neighborhoods, industry representatives, whoever has an interest, really," she said.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the October 1 municipal elections, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

In the race for the areawide Assembly seat, businessman Chuck Collins said he's worried the city's proposed tourism partnership looks suspiciously similar to other city tourism committees that didn't work.

"We hear a lot of talk about middle ground or collaborative work but what happens is we end up polarizing them and pitting them against each other and we work backwards a little bit," he said. "I'm willing to give it a try, but I like the plan the Chamber of Commerce had (for a tourism network) much better."

Collins said he can't answer whether the city needs satellite heliports and is concerned about whether the city will have to pay for them. He doesn't favor a moratorium on new dock construction downtown.

"I think when you tell someone they can't build something on their own property, we're sending a mixed message of what city government is about," he said. "I would have not said it's a problem we have to deal with. It's an opportunity, but we have some obstacles we need to overcome."

Areawide Assembly incumbent Marc Wheeler has pushed the Assembly to establish a collaborative partnership to implement the city's new long-range tourism plan.

"I wrestle with tourism issues personally and I think the community has a mixed view, but I think it's the one hope we can come to some common ground," he said. "I'd rather see us go down that road than going down the road of ballot initiatives and lawsuits and appeals."

Wheeler said he hasn't made up his mind about a new cruise ship dock proposed for the rock dump and is waiting to hear from the public about the issue. He's worried the city has latched onto satellite heliports as a solution to flightseeing noise without fully looking at other options such as limiting noise through a "noise-budget" approach.

"I have supported putting a cap on existing flight landings until we come up with a solution," he said. "I don't think it's fair to keep increasing the number of helicopter landings on the glacier when we haven't dealt with the impacts."

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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