Chamber forum heats up over road

Tense exchange erupts at meeting as Assembly candidates discuss issues

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007

A candidate forum hosted by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday ended in a tense exchange over the proposed road out of Juneau, after touching on an array of issues.

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Three candidates attended the forum: areawide candidate Marshal Kendziorek and the two District 2 candidates, Dixie Hood and incumbent Randy Wanamaker.

Areawide candidates Iskandar Alexandar and incumbent Johan Dybdahl were not present. Dybdahl was reported to be traveling, and Don Habeger with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line gave an opening statement for him. Alexandar could not be reached for comment.

District 1 Assembly candidate, Jeff Bush, who is running unopposed, also did not attend because he was out of town.

Kendziorek, who sits on the Juneau Planning Commission, said during the debate that the road issue divides the town instead of uniting it, and that since the road will never receive the financing it needs, the town must focus on things that are within reach.

When questions were opened to the audience, chamber member Dick Knapp, who ran for mayor in 2003, pressed Kendziorek on whether he'd support the road if finances were not an issue.

"If we assume that we have infinite amounts of money, let's put in a space shuttle port," Kendziorek said. "These are questions that I don't think get us anywhere. These are being used to vilify people. They are being used to try to set me up."

When Knapp interrupted him to get a straight yes or no response, Kendziorek asked the moderator to allow him his time to speak.

"The project that came before the Planning Commission was, in my view and in the view of a majority of the planning commissioners, not in the best interest of Juneau, and I still think that," he said.

The long-debated Lynn Canal Highway, as the state now refers to it, has already received approval from the city's Assembly, but the chamber still wants to know where people stand on that issue, said the chamber's Chief Executive Officer Cathie Roemmich.

"The chamber does not endorse any candidate, but the questions we ask are pertinent to our priorities, and the road is one of our top priorities. The reason we do ask those questions is because it's been such a struggle for that highway. It's been 30 years in the making. There is an emotional attachment on both sides," Roemmich said.

The candidates were all engaged when it came to the city's growing landfill site.

"It's a shame that in the six years that my opponent has been on this Assembly and talked about this issue," the city has not gained regulatory authority over the landfill, Hood said.

Wanamaker responded that he held four technical workshops to educate the Assembly on solid waste management issues, and that it's now working toward getting that authority.

"It's patient, careful hard work that leads to the correct decisions without expensive government programs," Wanamaker said.

Kendziorek pushed for curbside recycling, requiring everyone to pay for trash, and encouraging better management of construction waste.

When asked about how they would address Juneau's recent loss of jobs and young people, Wanamaker said mining is the "bridge to the future" for the town.

Kendziorek said, "like any ecosystem, diversity is the key" and emphasized that the city ought to lobby the Alaska Legislature to raise the pay and benefits of state employees to keep them in town.

Hood said she supports the Kensington mine, "provided it's developed in an environmentally sound way."

The candidates did not agree on whether West Douglas should be developed as an industrial zone.

Hood said she didn't think developing the area was feasible without a second bridge. Wanamaker said it did appear feasible. Kendziorek said there was already too much traffic to place additional development on Douglas, and the city made a mistake by allowing the most viable industrial land to be built on by Costco and Home Depot.

Candidates seemed to agree that there's a need to speed permit processing for large projects such as the Douglas golf course, but Hood and Kendziorek emphasized balancing that with deliberation.

"We don't need more committees, more task forces and more reports. ... Yes, we need permit streamlining, but it needs to be done in a way that still respects the rules of our community and the needs of our community," Kendziorek said.

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