Proposition 2 wouldn't be prudent

Posted: Friday, October 01, 2010

Oct. 5, our community will make some important decisions. Juneau residents will elect school board members, City Assembly members and settle three ballot propositions. The one I wish to address is Proposition 2.

Proposition 2, according to the proponents, is a part of their vision for the future. A causeway through the heart of our Mendenhall Refuge, a bench road around the North Douglas highway, a highway extension to hundreds of municipal and Goldbelt acres on the west side of Douglas and a deep water port to support our rapidly expanding population and commercial enterprises. A perfect sales pitch if the taxpayers aren't paying attention or they have money to burn.

As I sat through a heated debate at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon the other day, I kept trying to put aside the discord and actually stand back and assess where our community was going. Whether we like it or not, our community has adopted the present federal doctrine that we can spend ourselves into prosperity. Buy it today, whether we need it or not, because it will be more expensive in the future. Keep feeding the taxpayer rosy but unrealistic projections.

From my perspective, Juneau cannot keep careening down this steep path. We have a stagnant population of just 31,000 people, two expensive high schools, two swimming pools, a great but sometimes heavily subsidized ski area, an expanding airport, numerous must-have capital projects on the drawing board, a 22 percent increase in our electricity rates, an 18 percent increase in our water and sewer rates and storm threatening deferral tax increases. We now want two bridges, more housing, deeper ports, a bigger airport and fewer obstructive noises from taxpayers. Each of us should ask. "Can I really afford all of this?"

In order to hasten this rush to prosperity we are willing to sacrifice one of the truly magnificent features of our community - the Mendenhall Wetlands. Does anyone here realize how many cities pay to try and recover what we have for free? San Francisco has spent millions trying to salvage mere remnants of its once massive wetlands. I don't think we should spend money to replace it. I think we should just embrace it while it's free.

Yes, the proponents of this fantasy transportation corridor can argue the Mendenhall Wetlands are gradually disappearing due to a phenomenon called glacial rebound. Wetlands are becoming uplands slowly but steadily. Will it stop before the wetlands have disappeared? Probably no one knows. However, should we really consider a deadly form of euthanasia just because nature may take it away from us in 100 or 200 years?

The thought I couldn't escape during the debate was one that we talk about a lot. What if the rest of the state decides to take the capital away from us? Can we survive financially? What will Juneau look like? Can we maintain two high schools and two swimming pools? Will all of these people who rushed down this spending path be here to bail us out? What if we need to put money into a new Capitol Building to save the capital city? Where would we find the money if we have committed it all to a massive infrastructure we cannot afford? I know the "always say yes to spending taxpayer money" crowd will accuse me of being a naysayer or part of the "always say no" crowd. However, my dad always used to say "it is always wise to mix a little positive with a little prudent."

Let's keep our needs and wants clearly separated. I suggest we slow this spending train down before we have a train wreck. Save what is left of the Mendenhall Refuge. Vote no on Proposition 2 so we don't look back in the future and say, " I sure wish we hadn't done that."

Somerville is a member of the Vote NO on Prop. 2 Committee. He is a 71-year resident of Alaska and 31-year resident of Juneau. He was a biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and game for 24 years, and worked for the legislature and the Governor's office for 12 years as a Natural Resources Consultant.

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