City readies for Douglas Highway extension

The end of Douglas Highway

Juneau officials are preparing to apply for permits to extend Douglas Highway 3 miles to open up development on the west side of Douglas Island. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

City officials are moving forward with one of the Juneau Assembly’s top priorities: Development of the back side of Douglas Island.
As soon as this summer, Engineering Director Rorie Watt says the city will be ready to apply for permits to build a pioneer road at the end of North Douglas Highway. While it would be several years before any development takes place, Watt says the road would allow for more activity in the area called West Douglas.

“We want to make the land more accessible for exploration for development,” Watt told the assembly’s Committee of the Whole on Monday. “And by exploration I mean, make it easier for surveyors and engineers and geologists, biologists and prospective developers.”

The city has about $3.2 million for the road, mostly in the form of a state grant. The assembly has long talked about West Douglas as a possible site for future housing and commercial development.

Watt is recommending a 3-mile, one-lane gravel road, with periodic pullouts to allow vehicles to pass one another. He says a narrower road can be built farther than a more developed, two-lane street. Initially he says the road would be gated to prevent illegal dumping and other unwanted activities.

“In the short run, there’d be a fair amount of public recreational use,” Watt said. “And that might just be dog walking or mountain biking or hunting, winter skiing or some things like that.”

The entire road would be on city land, but allow access to property owned by Goldbelt Inc., Juneau’s urban village Native corporation. Over the years the city and Goldbelt have worked together on numerous proposals to develop West Douglas. Watt says that would still be the case.

“Goldbelt would certainly be involved. A lot of the development contemplated was on Goldbelt land,” Watt said. “Generally, Goldbelt’s view is they have a lot of shareholders and not a lot of land and they want to be really careful with the decisions that they make.”

While the road would span some tributaries of Peterson Creek, Watt doesn’t believe any of them are salmon-spawning streams.

The assembly generally seemed supportive of the proposal to build a one-lane pioneer road. Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl said it could be improved once the area is ready for development.

Kiehl also said he supports keeping part of West Douglas open to recreational activities.

“There’s a great deal of CBJ land back there on that side of Douglas,” Kiehl said. “The federal land gets pretty steep pretty fast, and the private land, trespass permits are not available. So, recreational access to the land on the backside of Douglas is really best accomplished through access to CBJ land.”

Watt says the most important permit needed will come from the Army Corps of Engineers. He says the corps can take six months to a year or more to issue the type of permit needed.

The assembly will hear an update on the project before the city applies for any permits.

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