Road north still divides community

Reaction to proposed compromise found to be largely negative

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2001

The business and environmental communities remain distrustful of each other in the wake of a proposed compromise on a road north of Juneau.

Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney who counts marine engineers among his clients, asked members of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to consider a "float, drive, float, drive" concept with shuttle ferries connecting travelers to a landlocked road north of Berners Bay, which would be off-limits for development.

But chamber members said that even if they were willing to settle for something less than the full "hard link" from Echo Cove to Skagway, they couldn't trust environmentalists to uphold their end of the bargain once Berners Bay was designated wilderness.

"I wouldn't trust the environmental community as far as I could throw them," said Bruce Abel.

No environmental advocates attended Tuesday's meeting of the chamber's transportation committee.

Today, Matthew Davidson, a grassroots organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, made clear that the lack of trust is mutual.

Davidson pointed to last year's municipal ballot question on whether better access to Juneau should be provided through ferry service or a road. Road advocates pushed for the vote and, apparently confident of victory, some said they wouldn't ever raise the issue again if they lost.

"They set the table and the Juneau voters supported, narrowly, improved marine access over a road," Davidson noted.

"They broke their word," said Juneau Assembly member Marc Wheeler, who was elected at the same time.

Geldhof said he's trying to end the polarization, and he challenged chamber members to talk to key environmentalists.

"In order to bring people together," he said, "you've got to give something to get something."

Geldhof contends that the state Department of Transportation, during its aborted work on an environmental impact statement, inappropriately focused on speculative figures for customer demand. Instead, a "purpose and need" model should have been followed, he said, concentrating on how to provide regular, predictable and marginally cheaper access.

But Pat Kemp, DOT's pre-construction engineer for the Southeast region, said that a scenario like Geldhof's was considered. It was almost as expensive as the $232 million estimate for the road to Skagway, while annual operating costs would be nearly three times as great, Kemp said.

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