August 15, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 32

Goll, Thomas pen critique of highway plan

Haines Borough Assembly members Tuesday hashed out a position on the state’s plans for widening the Haines Highway, incorporating verbiage from a joint statement issued by former state representatives Bill Thomas and Peter Goll.

The Department of Transportation plan to widen the road between 3.5 and 25.3 Mile came under fiery criticism last week for only superficially addressing concerns about fish and eagle habitat and Native cultural resources.

Project critics on Tuesday sounded a note of unity, citing a range of community concerns and saying if those weren’t addressed, residents might be compelled to seek an environmental impact statement, possibly delaying funding of the project for years. Resident George Figdor characterized the state’s environment assessment for the work as a rush job, although others who commented challenged that depiction.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said it was important for the borough to lay out its specific concerns with the work. “We need to name the issues we want to be addressed.”

Goll, who was in the audience, submitted to the assembly a joint statement he and Thomas had fashioned. The assembly took the 10-point statement, removing sections calling for repairing damage to fish habitat by former highway construction as well as statements about creating community unity and retaining fish wheels.

The assembly approved the modified statement unanimously. “Fish habitat, you don’t mess with that. If you have to slow down the speed limit, so be it,” said assembly member Norm Smith.

Goll, a Democrat, and Thomas, a Republican, are former political rivals. Both represented Haines in the Alaska House of Representatives.

In an interview this week, Thomas said he supported realigning the highway to make it safer, but thought that could be done by preserving sections such as eagle roosting trees that form a “natural guardrail” between the highway and Chilkat River.

As a fisherman and Native, Thomas said he was concerned about habitat as well as cultural sites along the road. The Native cemetery near the Haines airport that bisects a historic village is among concerns raised at recent meetings in Haines and Klukwan.