Chamber names Juneau road advocate Citizen of the Year

Former transportation commissioner still supports access project

Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Longtime road advocate Dick Knapp was stunned silent Saturday night by the announcement that he was the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"I was literally speechless," Knapp said Monday. "And that doesn't happen very often."

Knapp, 80, is known for being vocal about one of Juneau's most divisive issues, the Juneau Access Road.

His interest in the 50.8-mile road to connect Juneau with points north developed in the 1980s, when he was commissioner of the state transportation department.

Knapp left that job after less than three years, but held onto the idea of the controversial project he says is one link in a system of statewide infrastructure improvements needed to help Alaska see a viable economic future.

Opponents say the road is not needed and would be too expensive and environmentally damaging.

Knapp was appointed to head the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in 1983 by then-Gov. Bill Sheffield. He was fired in 1986, after Sheffield was beaten at the polls by Gov. Steve Cooper.

"I left reluctantly," Knapp said.

"There's never enough time to finish government work," he said, "but two-and-three-quarter years ... I didn't have enough time to get things done the way I wanted to."

Knapp retired from a 33-year career with the U.S. Coast Guard to accept the state position. He worked in private industry through the 1980s and 1990s as the feeling of not finishing his transportation work stayed with him, he said.

He and fellow road supporters, calling themselves The Road Gang, started Citizens Pro Road in 2006. The new organization gave them a voice in the media and a way to raise funds for their cause, Knapp said.

He called it "regrettable" that nothing happened to move the project toward ground-breaking since the organization formed three years ago. But he hasn't lost passion for the issue.

Untrue information presented as facts about the road's impacts by the opposition irks him especially, he said.

"I'm ready to go to bat and debate someone on the facts any time they want," he said.

Knapp doesn't mind being a vocal player in a divisive issue, saying he's not one to sit on the sidelines.

"You gotta say what you think, otherwise why think it?" he said.

Knapp and his wife, Pam, have been married for nearly 50 years. They have four children and 10 grandchildren.

He recently ended a nine-year stint on the city Docks and Harbors Board.

Like past recipients, Knapp was chosen for the Citizen of the Year award by a panel of past chamber of commerce presidents, said CEO Cathie Roemmich.

Knapp said he was humbled by the decision.

"There are so many people that work so hard, and any number of them could have been in this same position, and all of a sudden you get there and ... it's humbling," he said. "That's the most I can say about it."

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or e-mail

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