October 31, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 43

Scott seeks mayors' support for highway

Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott is pushing for the Southeast Alaska Conference of Mayors to write a letter supporting the Haines Highway realignment project.

Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford has also expressed support for such a letter, and said he would be willing to seek the Juneau assembly’s approval if Scott drafted the letter.

  In an email, Scott wrote the project has “stalled because of opposition from folks who believe that the project is an assault on the natural resources and the ‘jewel’ of the Haines Borough and the State of Alaska: the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.”

  Scott was inspired by a letter drafted by the group of mayors supporting the Izembek Road, which would stretch from King Cove to Cold Bay and cut through the Izembeck National Wildlife Refuge.

Proponents of the Izembek road claim it will open a “lifeline” for King Cove residents and improve safety; detractors claim construction of the road will be unnecessarily expensive and will set a dangerous precedent, as a road has never been constructed through a federal wildlife refuge.

  Scott said she would like the conference to write a “similarly gentle, but persuasive” letter regarding the Haines Highway project. “The Haines Highway, as presently designed lacks shoulders, sight lines, and includes dangerous curves. It has taken the lives and crippled travelers. It clearly needs to be improved,” Scott wrote in an email to borough staff and assembly members.

The National Audubon Society and Sen. Mark Begich have weighed in on the project asking for changes to the design “without benefit of the final (environmental assessment) which includes modifications in response to concerns raised,” Scott’s email says.

“DOT is working hard to avoid and mitigate impact to the preserve, through which the road passes,” Scott wrote.

“(The road) is a vital link; for those of us living in Haines, it has been driven to acquire emergency medical assistance in Whitehorse when the ferry is delayed/cancelled and weather has shut down small planes. We need that road to be improved and made safe for many, many people,” Scott’s said.

Juneau Mayor Sanford said the group met last Tuesday, but didn’t discuss Scott’s idea for a Haines Highway letter. “From my perspective as Juneau Mayor, I think that I would agree to that and look forward to looking at a draft letter from her.”

The group’s next meeting date has not yet been set, he said.