City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members Alicia Hughes-Skandijs and Wade Bryson listen to public testimony Monday night about whether the city should adopt new maps that show updated landslide and avalanche risk downtown. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members Alicia Hughes-Skandijs and Wade Bryson listen to public testimony Monday night about whether the city should adopt new maps that show updated landslide and avalanche risk downtown. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Assembly sends hazard maps back to committee following public opposition

The move follows multiple rounds of public testimony advocating against the maps’ adoption.

An ordinance that would decide whether the City and Borough of Juneau will adopt or reject new maps that show updated landslide and avalanche risk downtown was sent back to committee for further discussion after multiple residents expressed opposition during the Assembly’s Monday night meeting.

The decision by the Assembly to move it back to its Committee of the Whole was unanimously made with little discussion among members. In a previous meeting, members explained the decision to move the ordinance to the full Assembly was to allow for public testimony, but not necessarily a final decision.

The move Monday follows years of discussion and hesitancy on whether to accept the new maps — commissioned by the city in 2018 and paid for by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — and what regulatory changes and policy implications may flow from the updated avalanche or landslide-prone zonings.

CBJ’s current hazard maps, adopted in 1987, are based on maps created in the 1970s. Under the new maps the number of properties that move into high/severe landslide zones grows from 173 to 374, including 217 properties not included in the 1987 severe zone.

Since the release of the maps to the public, many property owners in the affected areas have expressed concern about adopting the maps, and that a new hazard designation could affect property values, resale options and insurance costs.

The Sitka Assembly went through a similar difficult decision-making process when, after deadly landslides in 2015, it commissioned landslide mapping to assess risk and later adopted a new section of city code with restricted development in areas with “moderate” or “high” landslide risk.

However, in 2021 the Sitka Assembly unanimously agreed to remove that language about landslide management from the city code, with the Sitka administration saying it was causing unanticipated challenges to homeowners in the area.

On Monday night multiple Juneau residents voiced their opposition to the maps’ adoption. Many argued the maps don’t accurately assess the site-specific risks of the properties in the area. If adopted, they argued, the maps would unfairly single out properties in the area compared to other locations in Juneau where similar hazard mapping has not been conducted.

Mary Ellen Duffy, a condo owner downtown, said if the maps are adopted she is concerned that she may be priced out of her home. She said a stipulation in her mortgage requires hazardous landslide insurance if her home is located in a designated hazardous landslide zone, which it would be if the maps were adopted, something she cannot afford.

“Consider us the human beings, the human element and fellow Juneau residents, who will be negatively impacted by adopting this ordinance and maps,” she said. “Do not treat us as collateral damage, do not adopt the maps and ordinance officially or for information only.”

Olivia Sinaiko, a Starr Hill homeowner, said she feels the scope of the study does not adequately address the site-specific risks of her home or many others, but because of the new designation it would disproportionately cause negative financial impacts.

“Even without the maps being adopted or officially sanctioned by the city they’re already having very real financial consequences,” she said. “I urge you to take the approach adopted by the planning commission and not adopt the maps in any manner.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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