My Turn: Rage over a 'foolish solution'

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006

My passion was piqued recently when conversing with an ex-Juneau road builder who had contributed to the paving of Egan Highway, from the Glacier Highway cutoff at the valley McDonald's to Highland Drive. Expounding on the benefits of that project, I asked him how he felt about extending this paved thoroughfare the necessary 70 or so miles north to Haines or Skagway. Understandably, he responded with marveling proclamations.

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But when asked how he proposed to engineer this "compliment to human ingenuity," with the intervening Juneau Icefield in the way, with all sincerity, his solution was to "burrow beneath" the glacial spurs.

Such a foolish solution - bulldozing the Tongass National Forest - to this insane proposal, exemplifies the pursuit of man's ambitions over nature. Such a combination of knee-jerk impulsiveness and self-serving interests characterizes industrial growth.

Granted, the competition between self-interest and the social interest is necessary for the careful advance of human welfare. But the unwarranted power of one over the other, usually unnaturally achieved through dubious and duplicitous means, results in a waste of energy.

Anybody who thinks they'll be able to drive their vehicle from the Juneau to an interchange with the North American paved auto-grid has their posterior plugged with their visual, aural and olfactory sensors.

The icefield stretches most of the proposed project's distance. There's nary a beach unskirted by fecund tidal mudflats, the taming of which may have food-chain reverberations on par with the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Mega-projects of this ilk are nothing more than a siphon on resources already constrained by an economy struggling to supersede the growth it experienced with industrialization.

Blasting, paving and maintaining a cliff-edged bed through some 90 avalanche chutes just to enable direct auto access to the state capital, may just provide the Legislature easier office-moving plans at session times. This would have longer-term consequences of incalculable dimension. What is most nonsensical about this proposal is that ferry service will still be required.

With so many inhabited islands throughout Southeast Alaska, ferry service is critical to mobility for many voters. Using the state's resources to enhance this service, rather than trying to fill a bottomless pit of road maintenance to a dead-end, would be the saner objective. Though the Kensington Mine will have paved access to Juneau, after bridging the Katzehin River, whether the construction crews truck their excavations to Juneau or ship them across Lynn Canal to Haines, they'll still need a ferry.

Why not just build a loading dock on the Katzehin River and save the diversity of life on our planet for the children.

• John S. Sonin is a Juneau resident.

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