My turn

Initiative is an attempt to rectify mistakes

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2000

The polarization between those forces wanting less pollution and better tourism management and those making their money off tourism can only be resolved by the people through the initiative process. The lack of commitment by certain assembly candidates further illustrates the need for citizen intervention. Rather than campaigning on platforms of how to solve this sticky issue, they prefer to talk about compromise, attitude, forgetting the past and more planning.

Even "For What It's Worth" Wiley's latest remote lecture on Juneau voter etiquette reflects more candor than most candidates. He has a pipe dream that "neighbors ought to join hands at sunset and dance thanking the gods of abundance." That bit of positive thinking has about the same chance of taking place as seeing Wiley author his Empire viewpoints from a desktop located in Juneau.

Some candidates respect the initiative but feel a better option would be to develop a long range plan. This is the reason we are in the predicament we find ourselves. You only have to review the lackluster results of continuous planning by various tourism advisory committees appointed in the past.

We should also be mindful of the constant posturing and transparent willingness of our local representatives who verbalize compromise on one hand while attempting to intimidate the town folks with threats of capital moves and losing FAA funding on the other. Why the pessimism? Very few of the candidates are willing to make the essential, no-nonsense commitments that we need to manage tourism. In addition, the economic powerhouse of Murkowski's fleet of cruise liners has little to worry about as few pollution regulations apply to them.

Even our governor is slowly getting frustrated with the water pollution problem. Meanwhile the Murkowski camp continues to support wastewater discharge that still doesn't pass federal standards. Cruise ship industry hands have been slapped recently by several states and the federal government for polluting water. And just lately, DEC regulators and the Coast Guard found elevated fecal coliform count in all 36 samples that were taken from 12 different ships! EPA has recommended fines for smoke pollution and Alaska's regulators have noted that one in five cruse ships have been polluting Juneau's air.

Yet, those who strive for less pollution in their day-to-day living are labeled as whiners and possessing uncompromising attitudes. Meanwhile certain pro-developers continue to illustrate their bias. One only has to review the recent publicized responses from two long time Juneau business owners.

When a recent Canadian report found no pollution violations with the cruise ship industry in Canada, one pro-tourism vendor immediately questioned America's regulators, wondering if a different agenda was being pursued. The second vendor recently reported in the Empire that noise pollution is a non-issue despite many noise complaints by downtown and valley residents. Next that person claimed overboard discharge is a non-problem because cruse ships voluntarily do not discharge within 10 miles of port. Finally the vendor rationalized that since the city is allowing North Douglas to emit raw sewage and our waste facility and wood stove users are allowed to smoke up the area, what's the problem?

Such comments reinforce my belief that, regardless of the evidence compiled by different regulators, certain members of this community will never look at our tourism problems from any viewpoint but their own self interests. They seem to be willing to ignore all pollution evidence and adopt the attitude that maybe we should lower our pollution standards to those of Canada. Why stop there? With Russia's environmental standards we could light up the water with radioactive starfish. Do you think the killer whale that recently beached itself (apparently another victim of the Exxon oil spill) would have agreed with lowering the standards?

The upcoming initiative represents the first attempt to roll back some of the mistakes we've made in the past which has resulted in excessive noise pollution levels. Our assembly is not going to make any meaningful changes to this problem.

Yes it's not perfect but if this initiative fails, it will be seen by industrial tourism developers as a signal to pursue their current plans of unbridled tourism. We will continue to see more remote parking variances, more helicopter landings, more floatplanes in the channel, more horses on the trails and more tourists fishing out of Auke Bay.

It's up to you - the people of Juneau -to manage tourism pollution as no one else will.

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