Proposition 2 and civil discourse

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2010

Over the last few weeks you have heard probably more than you want about using local sales tax money to build a causeway across the Mendenhall Wildlife Refuge. Why is $90 million of local money necessary in lieu of normal state and federal highway funding? Simply put, the proposed project does not cut the mustard with state and federal highway planners and with Congressional priorities. In fact the infamous bridge-to-nowhere has even beat out this crossing-to-somewhere. Now that is truly Alaska history.

Most importantly, the proposed causeway would be located right in the middle of a wildlife refuge. This would create environmental havoc, especially with the wetland's hydrology. While the causeway proponents simply sidestep the many environmental issues, at least they are not claiming the causeway would somehow enhance the refuge. It is easy to understand why there are so many expected hurdles for state and federal permits to protect the refuge.

I do agree a second crossing would enhance safety. The merits of added safety have always been part of the decision calculus of state and federal highway planners. Safety issues can often endure high costs - but apparently not in this case.

Then there is all the spin about costs. Are the cost estimates accurate or a lowball figure? The estimates are indeed from a reputable engineering firm. However, think back about how many projects are built at the engineers' estimate or less. Granted, the current economic recession has reduced the gap between estimated costs and real costs. However, my list of projects that have come in at-or-below estimated costs is pretty short - so short in fact there are no projects on the list.

Lastly, this project is just another unfortunate example of the lack of civil discourse. When facts cannot make your case you can always resort to self-righteous rhetoric and innuendo. The fact some of us do not accept the environmental impacts, plus the 10-year commitment to use our special 1 percent sales tax revenue, somehow makes us "the never say yes" crowd. Well, if my opposition to this very wrong headed project puts me into that category, so be it. I embrace it. My vote will be a very big no on Proposition 2. At the same time I remain respectfully open to future crossing alternatives.

Joe Mehrkens

Juneau

Retired forest economist and hydrologist



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