Michael Catsi's Sept. 22 "My Turn" column discussed the April scoping process for the Juneau Access Improvements project and a recent meeting held in Skagway. The state DOT&PF was invited to Skagway by the city's mayor to give residents there an update on the project. I would like to address some of Mr. Catsi's concerns and provide some additional information on the project. As most readers know, DOT&PF is currently developing a supplement to update the Draft Environmental Impact (DEIS). The DEIS was completed in 1997, but only limited additional study followed and no final document was prepared.
The first step in updating the DEIS was scoping. Scoping is the process used to identify issues to be addressed in an environmental document. The objective of this particular scoping effort was to identify: (1) the range of reasonable alternatives to be evaluated; (2) the substantive environmental issues; and (3) the studies required to address these issues in the supplemental DEIS.
Scoping meetings were held in Juneau, Skagway and Haines in April 2003 to gather public input on the project scope. Separate meetings were held with the many state and federal agencies involved in the project. The comments received during the 2003 scoping period, along with comments submitted in 1997 on the DEIS, were used to develop the studies that will support the supplemental DEIS.
Contrary to Mr. Catsi's assertion that public concerns "don't count," public comments from the 1997 DEIS and the 2003 scoping process contributed to several DOT&PF decisions. Ferry alternatives are being revised, the West Lynn Canal Highway has been put back in to the range of alternatives to be evaluated and several new studies have been designed. At the Sept. 5 meeting in Skagway, I explained the concerns raised by Skagway residents during scoping and the analyses we are conducting to address these concerns.
The fact that DOT&PF has a preferred alternative and the Southeast regional director articulates the reasons why it is preferred does not mean that the state will not consider other alternatives. The true test for unfair bias is how we treat the alternatives in the analysis. The project team is committed to documenting the advantages and disadvantages of each of the alternatives under study, and we are actively trying to improve every alternative. New information from studies now underway may change our assumptions about the preferred alternative, or may support another alternative.
It is true that I have stated at scoping meetings that the governor will make the final decision, and that it won't be based on a vote or a count of comments for or against a particular alternative. His decision will be based upon his evaluation of what is best for the state and for the region. In no way does this mean that it doesn't matter what people in Haines, Juneau or Skagway think.
The National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Highway Administration regulations require that the final decision be made only after consideration of all information in the environmental document, which includes public comment. I cannot guarantee anyone how much a particular comment will affect the outcome of this project, but clearly views and concerns not expressed cannot be considered, so we invite your comment.
For the latest project information visit our Web site at http://juneauaccess.alaska.gov, and follow the progress of the project there and in upcoming newsletters. I encourage everyone to read the supplemental DEIS when it is issued next summer, and to participate in the public hearing and comment process.
Reuben Yost is DOT&PF's project manager for the Juneau Access EIS.