Juneau Assembly votes 6-3 to support the road

A map of the favored proposed route to Katzehin. (Map courtesy Alaska DOT)
A map of the proposed route to a ferry terminal on the Katzehin River. (Map courtesy Alaska DOT)

The Juneau Assembly reopened the debate over the stalled Juneau Access Project that envisions 50 more miles of road up Lynn Canal to a ferry terminal closer to the road system.

The road debate has divided the community for decades and faces significant opposition from other Southeast cities, including Haines and Skagway.

Citing the state fiscal crisis, Gov. Bill Walker pulled the plug on the $574 million project last month.

But on Monday evening, an overflowing crowd of pro- and anti-road advocates filled the chambers to speak passionately from opposing sides.

Corey Baxter of Juneau’s chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers was joined by other union members who said the project would bring much needed employment.

“I know my family and my fellow union members put a high value on work and want to remind you that we are the ones that will actually build this road,” Baxter said as about a half-dozen other union members stood to show their support. “The project will provide work opportunity for dozens if not hundreds of Alaskans. Now more than ever we need the jobs that Juneau Access will provide.”

Other residents like Terri Lauterbach argued that a remote highway extension would not be feasible for the state to maintain.

“I haven’t heard avalanche chutes brought up yet,” she said. “At most we’re going to have summertime connection to the rest of the state and to other commerce. It’s not going to happen in the winter. There will be weeks that it takes to clear avalanches along that road. You can’t tell me that’s year-round commerce.”

After more than an hour of testimony, a divided Assembly voted 6-3 to pass the resolution that affirmed its support for the road extension and urged the Legislature not to divert funds  — estimated at about $40 million — to other projects.

Assembly members Jesse Kiehl and Loren Jones opposed the resolution. So did Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski.

“It’s not an easy issue,” she said. “It would be a lot harder for me if it were actually a road to Skagway or a road to Haines but it’s a road to another ferry.”

Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis spoke for the majority when he said counterarguments would not let him be swayed against supporting the road extension to a new ferry terminal on the Katzehin River.

“Even though there is a lot of opposition, I believe that it’s in the best long-term interest of the viability of this community to have a road,” he said.

The resolution was largely symbolic and is the product of a closed-door “brainstorming session” held earlier this month by the mayor with like-minded boosters.

Previous ballot measures and other polls have shown the community to be deeply divided on the issue.

Given the governor’s opposition and the state’s dire fiscal climate, it’s unlikely lawmakers will revisit the issue this year.

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