EDITORIAL OPINION

Dear Governor: Back off!

One of my favorite bumper stickers shows cartoon icon Yosemite Sam, two guns at the ready, spouting the message “Back Off!” This is a message Skagway needs to be sending to the governor, not a polite “please reconsider.” This is a road war that he started and we need to respond in kind until he shows a willingness to listen.
Governor Frank Murkowski has made it known that he wants a Juneau-Skagway road. That is his opinion, and that’s fine. But the governor, his DOT commissioner, and a deputy or two have been waging a behind-the-scenes campaign trying to get other entities – Southeast Conference, Alaska Tourism Industry Association, Alaska Chamber of Commerce, and most recently the Sitka Assembly – to back him in supporting the road alternative. This is happening as the draft supplemental Juneau Access Environmental Impact Statement nears its completion, and the governor’s meddling is marring the process. These groups have been asked to support the road, not any of the other Juneau Access alternatives. It is sleazy, it is inappropriate, and most important of all, it is not fair to the EIS process, nor to the people effected most by the upcoming EIS decision, the people of upper Lynn Canal and Juneau.
The governor has never really listened to the people of Skagway, Haines and even Juneau about their concerns about the road alternative. It’s apparent that he has his mind made up, and damn the rest of us. But he must remember that he is dealing with people here. And a slight majority, when you combine Haines, Skagway and Juneau, prefer better ferries.
At this end of Lynn Canal, the primary concern is for the economy – the big unknown. No one can tell us how many jobs will be lost to the road alternative, and if there will be enough state highway jobs to replace them. Or if the money going out to spend in the big box stores of Juneau will be equal to the money coming in from Skagway being a stop on the road versus the end of the road.
Yes, we need better Juneau Access. Yes, Skagway has a significant pro-road lobby pushing for the road, and we understand fully why a family of five would rather spend $50 driving a road several times a year, than $500 on a ferry ticket once or twice a year. Those concerns are weighing into the EIS process, but equal treatment should be made to bring the cost of a fast ferry ride down for the average family. The ferry option certainly has advantages concerning safety and the environment.
The EIS process seems to be working. The road route proposed into Skagway has been changed due to loud opposition here last summer and fall. It no longer goes right by Lower Dewey Lake, and though trail impact will be felt, the state is open to mitigation to allow construction of new trails. Still, a tunnel would be better, but the rock apparently isn’t stable enough to be safe. At the same time, avalanche concerns are not going to go away, and short of building snow sheds, the DOT planners seem content with having 15-16 road closures a winter and blasting down slides with bombs dropped from helicopters or propelled across Lynn Canal with cannons. Wonder how the military feels about the terrorist risks associated with that option?
The governor needs to let the debate continue, let the facts present themselves, and let the EIS process sort it out. Sure the decision is up to him, but now is not the time for him to be lining up support for an alternative that has serious complications and will certainly grow in cost to make it safe for the environment and the traveling public. When the EIS is released, then let others comment on the facts presented, including the pros and cons of the fast ferry alternatives. We will know after this summer how much it costs to operate a fast ferry, and that information should be included the final EIS!
If the governor can’t comprehend this message, then maybe it’s time to bring back the cannons to the summit of the pass to fire a warning shot in his direction. For centuries, those who have guarded the passes to the Interior have controlled commerce in our region. This is our geographical imperative. We can never give this up, and one governor can’t tell us what’s right. Skagway’s status as a gateway is clearly at risk. The governor needs to listen to everyone’s concerns, and let us weigh in on the decision.
If I were Yosemite Sam, at this point I would tell the governor to “Back Off” and might even add a little color in the middle of that message. But if the governor were to show a willingness to listen, then the guns would certainly come down, and he might be welcome again in these here parts. WJB