Juneau residents got the chance to put their questions about the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed expansion of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center directly to Forest Service employees during an open house at the center.
“This is our opportunity to look at the details and see what they’re planning,” said Roman Motyka, a Juneau resident at the open house Tuesday afternoon.” They’re still open to corrections, open to changes.”
Motyka is on the board of directors of the Juneau Nordic Ski Club, which he said would be submitting its own public comment and though he has some concerns about the possibility of motorized boats on Mendenhall Lake, Motyka said there was a lot to like in the proposed plans.
There are currently four alternatives being put forward. The first is the no-action alternative which would make no changes. Alternative 2 makes the most significant changes, including allowing motorized boats across Mendenhall Lake to the Mendenhall Glacier and paving over one of the ponds near the visitor center to build an expanded parking lot.
Alternative 3 is similar to the second, but would leave the pond in place and would allow only alternative fuel and electric boats. Alternative 4 would have no boats at all, and make the fewest changes to the visitor center area aside from the no-action alternative.
This is not the project’s first public comment period, and the Forest Service said it incorporated locals’ concerns into the third and fourth alternatives.
Speaking to the Empire at the open house, Forest Supervisor for the Tongass National Forest Earl Stewart said it was hard to say how long it would be before a plan was chosen and construction set to begin. A lot of that depended on how much public input the Forest Service received, Stewart said.
The expansion is meant to better facilitate the increasing number of tourists that visit the glacier each year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of tourists arriving from cruise ships was annually increasing and the tourism industry is expecting tourism to return in force.
How the project is paid for is also yet to be determined, Stewart said, but there have been conversations with the tourism industry about a potential partnership.
“It’s a big project,” Steward said. “It’s going to be contingent on how (the project) all lines up.”
Juneau residents at the open house said they were looking to learn more about the project but several mentioned not wanting motorized boats on Mendenhall Lake.
“I want to see what they’re proposing and how it’s going to affect me,” Juneau resident Katherine Andrews said with a laugh.
Another resident, Susan Krogstad, said she hadn’t yet submitted public comment and was still getting information about the project.
“I don’t know that I have an alternative I like,” Krogstad said. “I’m a local hiker and just seeing the impact.”
Public comment on the project opened March 4, and lasts 45 days.
Public comment can be submitted online, by fax to 907-586-8808 or mailed to 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road, Juneau, Alaska, 99801 . Project materials are available at the Forest Service website.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.