Merkes responds to comments on assembly's byway vote

Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Most of you have probably read the Clarion's front-page article "Road rage: Council upset with byway vote." I feel compelled to respond to Mayor (Dave) Carey's comments about "not very pleased" and to "taking offense to comments made by assembly members, especially those by assembly member Grace Merkes."

I wasn't at the city council meeting when Mayor Carey brought this item to the council's attention, so I don't know what he said. What I do know is that the discussion he and I had at the Alaska Municipal League was private and should have been kept that way. I believe public meetings are for open discussion, and private conversations should be kept just that way: "private." I am under the impression that assembly members, as well as all elected officials, should voice their opinion during public meetings even if it is in opposition to whatever it is that is being presented. Isn't that the American Way?

I also believe that decisions should be made based on researching both sides of an issue. My opinion about naming the Sterling Highway a National Scenic Byway is based on facts I got from the National Federal Register and from an Alaska Scenic Byways statewide study done in February of 2002 by the Environmental Science Department of the Alaska Pacific University. My comment, about the Sterling Highway not being very scenic, is my opinion but is also supported by the majority of respondents in the survey. In fact, the respondents did not even choose the Sterling Highway in the top 10 ratings. The Sterling was rated number three as the least scenic.

Some of the other reasons I oppose naming the Sterling Highway a National Scenic Byway are because I have not seen much, or almost no, public support for this designation from the private property owners along the highway, and I believe it is not in the borough's best interest to support the designation of a scenic highway until the "Corridor Management Plan," which is a requirement to have before designation, is done. This borough doesn't need another plan to designate how the land along the highway will be managed. Our local government should be the governing body over management and regulation not the federal or state departments. The borough will have to be involved in the enforcement of the plan and possibly in funding some matches for grants.

And, last, I believe highways should be managed for transportation functionability and not for psychological outcomes as mentioned in the survey.

If you have interest in this proposal, reconsideration of the vote, which was a 4-4 tie, will be brought up at the Sept. 7 meeting.

Grace Merkes

Borough assembly member


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