Public hearings next month

By ELISE GIORDANO

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities released its newest plan for the road to Juneau on Sept. 18.

Of the eight alternatives listed in the 694-page draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, alternative 2B is the preferred course of action for DOT&PF.

The project would consist of building a 50-mile road from Juneau to a new ferry terminal at Katzehin. Travelers would then have to board a shuttle ferry to either Skagway or Haines, where they would then pick up the Alaska Highway in Canada.

The state’s preferred alternative would cost $574 million dollars to build, up $100 million from previous quotes.

The plan is said to boost tourism, lower costs and travel time, but the cost to annually maintain and operate the road would be an estimated $20 million.

The road would pass through 41 avalanche paths and would result in the loss of wetlands and intertidal and sub tidal areas.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is asking for people to write to Governor Sean Parnell to request that the road not be built. In 2008, SEACC prevailed in a court action to get the state to include a better plan using existing ferries in the SEIS. That information has been added, but the state still prefers the road up East Lynn Canal to Katzehin.

SEACC argues that the state can’t afford the road alternative, questions its safety, says the Southeast’s iconic coastline will be ruined, and that it will decrease the quality of life.

In a recent email to members SEACC said that the DOT’s own data shows that the new plan is 25 percent more expensive than running ferries from Auke Bay to Haines and Skagway.

They said that the study found that ferries are less damaging, less dangerous and more cost-effective than a road.

“Shoveling half a billion dollars into a dead-end road means we won’t have the funds to replace our aging (and essential) mainline ferries,” SEACC said.

The proposed plan would eliminate a direct ferry route from Skagway to Juneau, leaving travelers without a vehicle in need of finding other transportation.

Jan Wrentmore, a member of the Skagway Marine Access Committee, said there is a major misconception among people who think they are going to get a road as well as the current ferry system.

Wrentmore said she thinks the Alaska class day boats should be given a chance to work and do the job they are designed to do.

She said after reading the SEIS, she found that the road will cost $5 million more per year to maintain than the existing marine highway system.

“If they go forward with it, it’s going to suck every available dollar out of the region for other needed projects,” Wrentmore said.

She listed the replacement of the Captain William Moore Bridge, resurfacing the Klondike Highway, and a new Skagway ferry float as projects that need addressing.

“Where will the money come from if they sink all of the money into this megaproject?” Wrentmore said.

Parnell has shown support for the road during his 2014 re-election campaign saying that it will create jobs, increase access and help grow the economy.

Wrentmore said she thinks the governor is pandering to a few special interests.

“I don’t think it’s about the Kensington mine. There are some very wealthy Juneau families who own the mineral rights on the ridge along the east side of Lynn Canal,” Wrentmore said. “If they want to develop the mines, they should pay for the roads themselves and not burden our community with it.”

She said that the plan is going to leave the people of Skagway very dissatisfied.

“I definitely think they should stop this megaproject,” Wrentmore said. “They have spent millions and millions just studying it.”

A public hearing will be held on Oct. 23 at the Skagway City School in the multi-purpose room, with an open house from 3 to 8 p.m.

Public comments on the matter will be heard by DOT&PF until Nov. 10. The SEIS may be found at www.juneauaccess.alaska.gov . A print copy also is available at the Skagway Public Library.

The News will explore more details in the SEIS and the road and ferry alternatives in its October issues.