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Oct. 5, the citizens of Juneau will vote on whether to allocate sales tax money to build a North Douglas Crossing. For more than 25 years the need for a second connection to Douglas Island has been recognized for safety and emergency reasons. In fact, when the Game Refuge was created in 1976 a section was included stating that expansion of the airport and a transportation corridor were "preferential" uses in the Refuge.
Damage to the downtown bridge, or even a major accident, could separate Douglas from hospital or emergency services. A major Behrends avalanche could cut off all of downtown Juneau and Douglas from the hospital. While boats and helicopters could be used in an emergency, the lack of quick access would threaten lives.
Most opponents of the current initiative say they do not oppose a crossing, but rather oppose the plan put forth by the Safe Affordable Future Efficient, or SAFE, committee. Let me be very clear here. The SAFE Committee is not putting forth this proposal. The City Assembly is. The assembly intentionally used the phrase "North Douglas transportation crossing" rather than causeway on the ballot language. And the assembly understands many issues will have to be resolved before a final crossing design is proposed. That design and the location of the crossing will ultimately be guided by the assembly and the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, permitting process, not by any citizens' group.
I urge citizens to keep in mind that the greatest future impact on the wetlands is not from a crossing, but from the inexorable fact of continuing isostatic or glacial rebound. The refuge land is rising. It has been and will continue to. According to the 2007 climate report made to the assembly, the elevation of the wetlands will rise up to three feet over the next century. This report can be viewed at http://bit.ly/cYoQRp. The reality is a crossing on the area north of Lemon Creek will have the least impact on the wetlands that will remain 30-50 years from now.
There is no doubt that there needs to be a comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of a crossing. That is exactly what this proposition will initiate. The rigorous study and permitting required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and state statutes starts with an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS. That was begun in 2003 but dropped by the state due to a lack of funding. The state has been clear that they will not fund an EIS. Passing this proposition will enable the environmental studies to move forward. Without funding those studies there will be no crossing, anywhere, anytime.
A crossing would also have a positive impact on air quality in Juneau. The Mendenhall Valley and Lemon Creek areas host the airport, the police station, the big box stores, and the landfill. Every day hundreds of miles are driven to access those destinations that could be eliminated with a connection to Douglas. This impact will increase with the future development of West Douglas. That is not just time and convenience. Our cars are among the greatest polluters of the air in Juneau. A crossing would reduce that impact. It will reduce the traffic on North Douglas Highway between the new crossing and the downtown bridge and it will advance the potential of a Douglas bench road.
Background information on the crossing, including the studies back to 1984 can be found at the city's website at http://bit.ly/akhh5N and the state Department of Transportation's website at http://bit.ly/9RT35x
There is no question a crossing will have an impact on the current wetlands and on hunting in the game refuge. These are legitimate concerns and must be balanced against the benefits of a second access between the mainland and Douglas.
You will have to balance those pros and cons on Oct. 5. But I believe that the safety and future of Juneau favors a yes vote on Proposition 2.
Jonathan Anderson is an associate professor of public administration at UAS and a City Assembly member.