SAFE and Vote NO square off in debate on Proposition 2

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010

Proponents of the proposition on extending a temporary sales tax for a second crossing to Douglas squared off with Vote NO members at a debate Thursday night.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

The Safe, Affordable, Future, Efficient Committee wants to see progress in Juneau, while opponents want a better and clearer plan.

Three members of SAFE - Pat Kemp, a licensed engineer who used to work for the Department of Trasportation, Rick Shattuck, the leader of SAFE and a business owner, and Assemblyman Merrill Sanford were a part of the panel. Representing Vote NO were Ron Somerville, retired from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Ernie Mueller, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and as the city public works director, and Jon Tillinghast, a lawyer who works with industries in environmental issues.

Gregg Erickson moderated the debate, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Each side was given a chance to explain their position and answer a round of questions from the moderator and queries from the public.

The differences came down to location and funding. Vote NO doesn't want to see the second crossing appear at Sunny Point because of concerns listed in a report from 2007. Tillinghast said those issues haven't changed. He pointed out that the public opinion survey portion says 78 percent of the public was most concerned about further damaging the refuge, rather than concerned about the cost. He said Vanderbilt Hill Road doesn't go over the same kind of vegetation and is a shorter distance.

Vote NO also is concerned with tying up a 1 percent sales tax for 10 years - a fund that pays for large special projects.

Mueller said there is a whole list of city projects that haven't been permitted because they needed fill on the wetlands. The group believes a project at Sunny Point will never get permitted.

While SAFE has focused on Sunny Point and the ballot has it listed, that doesn't mean Sunny Point will be the ultimate location. Kemp said the project would have to go through several permitting processes that will identify all alternatives and analyze them. He also said there is no state or federal funding for this project because it falls under the classification of a community project.

Sanford said this is just the beginning step of figuring out the future of the project. The other projects Vote NO has listed that won't get completed are projects that qualify for state and federal funds, he said.

Mueller suggested the city spend $5 million to $10 million on environmental and technical design work before looking at money to fund the entire project.

"It will give us a better idea of whether it's permittable or not and a better cost estimate so we know what we're looking at," he said.

Another concern of Vote NO is that a causeway with a bridge portion to Douglas would leave a 16-foot vertical clearance. Shattuck said they will be asking for a waiver from the Coast Guard and that they may need to build a moveable span bridge or something similar.

Tillinghast said what that means is they'll be asking the Coast Guard to declare the Gastineau Channel unnavigable.

In closing statements, Somerville said the public doesn't have enough credible information, like an engineering report, to make a decision yet.

Sanford said he votes as a fiscal conservative, but Juneau also needs to have a vision and move forward to provide for the future.

Kemp said it's time to go through the process and let the process decide.

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or

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