The time has come to cross

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2010

Once in a while I get excited about an issue and am foolish enough to jump right in. My last crusade was for a new pool in Mendenhall Valley - a very good idea whose time had come. My grandson was, and is, my motivating special interest.

Here's another good idea. Let's stop talking about it and start the permit process for a north Douglas crossing. To give you some perspective, my wife talked about this popular notion when she was on the Assembly way back in the 1980s.

I'm one of the seven founding members of the Safe Affordable Future Efficient, or SAFE, Committee. We started the current conversation after working on it for a year or so. My co-founders - Rick Shattuck, Jessie Schoonover, Max Mertz, Linda Thomas, George Elgee and George Reifenstein - are all good folk, solid citizens.

Each of us has strong roots in the community and care deeply about our town. We are putting heart and soul into this effort because we believe strongly a north Douglas crossing would be a very good thing for Juneau.

We've concluded, after much thought, the Sunny Point route makes the most sense for a variety of compelling reasons. It would provide secondary access by land for public safety response vehicles to an island housing 5,000 of our residents, would avoid driving hazards along the first 6.5 miles of the North Douglas Highway, and would cut more than 20 miles off most round trips to or from north Douglas.

We want to use sales tax because it is the only likely near-term funding source. I understand the angst about spending such a big chunk of our money on one project. I had to think hard about this.

But after years of trying, we just can't seem to talk the federal or state governments into it. Still, other public funds could follow if the city shows the flag with a major commitment.

We're not trying to pull a fast one by pushing use of local bucks so we can avoid federal permits, as suggested by opponents in the election pamphlet. As they point out: "This project will be subject to rigorous federal scrutiny." We agree, and we all know that that this review will include consideration of alternative routes.

Much of the growing debate focuses on SAFE's preferred route, not so much on the need for better access. In fact, some opponents start by saying they support a second crossing.

So, what about the environmental concerns my friends and neighbors are bringing to the table? I know and respect many of the critics. I take their comments very seriously. But, my team disagrees with much of what they are saying.

And no matter how you feel about these issues, it's way too soon to jump to conclusions or assume the Sunny Point project can't be permitted.

The public process will sort things out. Many cautious regulators from a variety of agencies working under the glaring spotlight of intense citizen scrutiny will carefully and thoughtfully address all of the issues and help lead us to the best answer for Juneau.

The measure only asks whether we want a north Douglas crossing. Our City Assembly, who put this on the ballot by a solid 7 to 2 vote, will make the final calls, guided by the NEPA permitting process. They are free to choose.

The people will get another bite later when we have a chance to vote on general obligation bonds needed to jump-start the funding. The bond payments will be paid for with the revenue from the 1 percent sales-tax extension.

We've been talking about this for too many years. Further delay is bad for any route. If you want a north Douglas crossing, please join me in voting yes on Prop 2.

• David Rogers is an attorney, lobbyist, businessperson and former manager at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. He's lived in Juneau for more than 30 years.

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