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Joe Geldhof pitches road compromise

n 'Float, drive, float, drive' plan would start road north of Echo Cove

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Joe Geldhof says a road could be built to increase access to Juneau.

But Geldhof, a Juneau attorney who fought against the road alternative on last year's municipal ballot, doesn't want the road to go from the current terminus at Echo Cove up to Skagway.

Instead, he's throwing out a compromise solution: starting the road north of Berners Bay, which environmentalists have vowed to protect, and ending it at the Katzehin River, across Lynn Canal from Haines.

Two shuttle ferries would be needed: From Auke Bay to the beginning of the new road, and from the Katzehin to Haines and Skagway. The shuttles wouldn't provide the quick drive out of Juneau sought by road advocates, but they would treat Haines and Skagway the same, noted Geldhof.

Geldhof, who was scheduled to unveil the idea at a meeting today of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's transportation committee, said he doesn't expect it to be popular.

"I'm not saying anybody's going to like any of this stuff," said Geldhof, a longtime ferry advocate who has represented a ferry engineers' union in legal matters. "I'm using this as Exhibit A in my quixotic attempt to point out how dysfunctional politics in Juneau and Alaska have become. Compromise has become foreign."

And compromise doesn't appear any more likely than in October 2000, when voters narrowly approved better ferry service as the solution for Juneau access, instead of a road.

Members of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, who have fought the road, declined to comment on Geldhof's idea.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jamie Parsons, who lost last year's mayoral race running on a pro-road platform, was skeptical when told about the plan this morning.

"Anything that this community can do to make it easier for folks to get to Juneau, that's positive," Parsons said. "(But) we were talking about getting from A to B. Here we're talking about A, B, C and D. That just makes for more opportunities for delays, cancellations. How are they going to maintain that road if that road's basically going to be an island?"

The Juneau access question has been revived recently in the wake of polling results about a pending ballot proposal to move legislative sessions to Southcentral. With a statewide poll reportedly showing slippage for Juneau's status as the capital, Juneau Mayor Sally Smith and Clark Gruening of the Alaska Committee have asked Gov. Tony Knowles to reactivate work on an environmental impact statement for Juneau access, a necessary step before a road could be built. Knowles so far has declined.

The Alaska Committee is a local nonprofit group that promotes Juneau as Alaska's capital.

Juneau Assembly member Jim Powell, who has lamented the lack of compromise on the road issue, welcomed Geldhof's initiative. "I think it's worthy of discussion."

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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