Testimony mixed on Juneau Access project funding

Juneau Access map

Map of the proposed Juneau Access project (courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

Juneau residents on Thursday weighed in for and against a $35 million appropriation for the Juneau Access project in Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed capital budget.

The Senate Finance Committee took general comments on the spending plan. Those who spoke about the proposed road north of Juneau were split about evenly between supporters and opponents.

James Sullivan, a spokesman for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, called the project a boondoggle.

“We have felt for decades now that this project has been overblown in its usefulness, and that it won’t really serve the people of Juneau as well as many people think,” Sullivan said.

He asked the committee to pull funding for the project until the Alaska Department of Transportation completes a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

In 2006, SEACC challenged the original Juneau Access EIS in court, saying it didn’t adequately consider alternatives to the road, such as improved ferry service. After several appeals, the Parnell administration started working on the new version in 2011. A DOT spokesman in early March said a draft document could be released within a couple months.

Supporters of the road say it would improve Juneau’s economy and quality of life. Juneau Chamber of Commerce CEO Cathie Roemmich urged the committee to fully fund Parnell’s request.

“This $35 million will get the road as far as the Kensington Mine,” Roemmich said. “That means that over 200 workers out there can drive home every day, instead of staying in small rooms and cots that other employees share. To us that’s really important, because we want to keep those Kensington Mine workers and all of our mine workers here in Juneau.”

Opponents said the state should not be building the road for a private company.

Sometimes called the Lynn Canal Highway, the entire project is supposed to go to the Katzehin River, where day boats would transport vehicles and passengers to Haines and Skagway.

Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford and Deputy Mayor Mary Becker also testified in favor of the project.

During the public hearing, several other Juneau residents testified in support of a proposed arts complex in the city’s Willoughby District.

More testimony is scheduled on the capital budget this weekend and early next week.

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