In 2006, the then head of the Juneau Access EIS study team visiting Skagway, in very candid remarks, said that it did not matter what the study concluded. He said, “It’s a political decision… driven by the governor.”
If that’s true, then let’s just cut to the chase and play that game with our future.
The EIS is a required federal document for any mega project, and the data it contains is extremely valuable, but if the decision on which alternative to choose is really up to the sitting governor, then you, sir, are now in control.
Governors before you have played with this political football. Hickel was for it, Knowles was against it. Murkowski was very pro-road and the first to push this EIS, but he was booted out. His successor, Palin, was for the road but didn’t want to pay for it, and now we have Parnell who is for it, but is on the brink of losing. He could still sign off on the latest EIS as one of his last acts as governor, and if he emerges as the winner, could continue to push road funding through the Legislature. This letter is not really addressed to him because he has already made up his mind and will not listen to anyone in Skagway except those who are for the road.
The “unity ticket” of Walker and Mallot has vowed to crunch the numbers on it, and we hope that if you maintain your lead and are elected, then you will take that pledge seriously, and weigh in all costs and risks.
Therein lies whether this $574 million road project should move forward. In our opinion, it should not.
We have always maintained that the state will be able to build a safe road. The Klondike Highway is a perfect example of a road constructed through impossible terrain and was supported by this community for years leading up to its construction, but the Juneau road is different.
The Juneau road option remains opposed by this community because it makes sense in only one area: the cost of a family traveling in a car ($101 on the road, versus $223 or higher on a ferry). Conversely, for a walk-on passenger, the road will cost that person more than riding on the existing ferry system.
Another biggie, annual maintenance costs, is too close to call. The EIS says the road will cost $20.4 million to maintain annually, versus $23.8 million per year for better use of our ferry system. And if, under the road option, the ferry terminal in Katzehin is manned, as it should be, and the state has to supplement a bus system to Juneau, then those annual maintenance figures will be even higher for the road option. The state’s cost ultimately is too close to call.
Then there are the costs that don’t have figures attached, which are better described as risks:
– there is a risk to the world-class scenery along Lynn Canal, which is best viewed from a boat, and thousands come to see it every year.
– there is a risk to the sea lions, eagles and goats that populate the road corridor.
– there is a risk to the economies of Skagway and Haines, towns that currently enjoy their historic status as gateway port communities for both visitors and the movement of freight.
– there is a risk of avalanches and rock slides in spite of all safety measures that will be used to construct a safe road.
– there is a risk that Juneau could lose the capital anyway, road or no road, so why not have the support of all SE communities in continuing the fight to keep the capital there.
The 2006 EIS was challenged in court for not including an alternative that showed better use of the ferry system we have now. Ironically, the state had already moved in the direction of a better system with the implementation of the Lynn Canal day boat in the summertime, but it was not included in that first draft. Now it is in this new EIS, and the numbers prove that an improved ferry system is a viable alternative to a road.
But again, it’s a political decision.
Given all of the above risks associated with the road option, and the closeness in annual maintenance cost to the ferry system that we enjoy now, we sincerely hope you will work with the people of this region to make our ferry system the best in the world and more affordable for those who use it. The road is just not worth the risk. –WJB