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Tom Williams: Leadership and integrity, or smoke and mirrors on Cascade Point?


Last May I was a signatory to a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy asking the governor to direct the Department of Transportation to sign a lease with Goldbelt Inc. and begin construction of a ferry terminal at Cascade Point.  

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The letter outlined a whole host of reasons for making the project happen without further delay, including a wide range of political and labor support for the project.

In its September report to the governor, the Alaska Marine Highway Working Group lead by Vice Admiral Tom Barrett also recommended the Cascade Point project as a way to improve service and reduce costs. 

Although the governor and his chief of staff have publicly stated they support a Cascade Point ferry terminal, the project is languishing while the clock runs on the $42 million of state funds appropriated and available to pay for it.  

If those funds are not obligated without any more delays, legislators across the state will target those funds for projects in their own districts. When that happens, the governor may be tempted to use the money as a bargaining chip, dooming the Cascade Point project. 

In a public meeting last month Goldbelt CEO McHugh Pierre advised Chief of Staff Ben Stevens that he has provided the Department of Transportation a proposed land lease based on previously approved state leases. 

Pierre has also stated that Goldbelt is ready, willing and able to work with the State to make a ferry terminal at Cascade Point a reality, a necessary step in improving the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Getting any bureaucracy, including DOTPF, to implement a Governor’s policy can be a challenge, especially if there are those in the bureaucracy that either do not support or outright opposed the policy.  

However, I know from personal experience that if you are committed to getting something done, you can actually get the bureaucracy to do it and do it timely. But it takes leadership, commitment, determination, clear communication and constant follow-up.

Juneau Access supporters listened to former Gov. Bill Walker promise that he supported the Juneau Access road, and then string them along until he finally announced that he didn’t support the project after all. We all know what it is like to be told by politicians what we want to hear, but not get any actual results.

With regard to a Cascade Point ferry terminal there are several questions that need to be asked. Does the governor or his staff not know how to get this done? Is the governor and his staff letting DOTPF subvert his policy, by outright opposing it or intentionally slowing the process? Are there exempt and partially exempt DOTPF staff that need to be replaced? Or does the governor not really support this project?

Carly Fiorina once made an observation in response to a statement made by Hillary Clinton. Carly correctly noted that, “Travel is an activity, not an accomplishment.” There is a corollary to that statement. “It is not what you do all day, it is what you get done that counts.”

The bottom line is this:  When can we expect a land lease with Goldbelt to be signed and construction of a Cascade Point ferry terminal to be put out for bid?  

The answer to that question will indicate whether Gov. Dunleavy is a leader, good for his word, or just another politician, no different than his predecessor Bill Walker.

Tom Williams is a 43-year resident of Juneau with both private sector and public sector experience, including 18 years of Alaska executive and legislative branch service.



  1. so what are the problems?
    DOTPF I know of – been fighting with them for a couple years at the Anch Airport

    But can you list the specific root causes of this delay?

    • Deep-state sand-bagging. Its no longer the Department of Transportation and Facilities but rather the Department of Studies and Studies and Studies…. They have devolved to the point where studies are now the sole purpose and function of their existence.

      Leadership is incapable of making changes. The deep-state culture of obstruction has become all powerful. They know they only need to bide their time as successive administrations run their course through the gauntlet of bureaucratic sand traps.

      We are doomed to exist in this dystopian reality which is much like the movie Groundhog Day.

  2. If Alaska were flush with oil money and could build ferry terminals and the linking road out-of-pocket, there might be an way. But because federal funds are needed for the road and terminal construction, one must follow the law for the use of federal transportation funds. Made more difficult, as MRAk noted in its April 6, 2019 article, by Gov Walkers “no-build” decision for the USDOT SEIS environmental review.
    I don’t recall exactly how many decades went into the environmental review and lawsuits for Juneau Access. Terminating the SEIS with the precise negative finding by Walker, makes it very difficult to restart, and any restart goes back to the beginning. Decades.
    My expertise is in the environmental review of DOT&PF projects. I spent a decade at it. Federal law requires a completed environmental review before any property acquisition. If you use State funds to buy property (preselecting the project end point) you have biased the environmental review and have little chance of surviving the for-sure lawsuit that will fund yet more environmental lawyers.
    It may not be obvious. I may not be able to explain it in just a few words. I can tell you, having completed dozens and dozens of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews, reviews required for every expenditure of federal funds, that jumping ahead does substantial damage to your effort. I can only pray the experts at DOT&PF can explain this to the Goveror.
    Alaska has a reputation for “bridges to no-where.” Worse, we’ve tried jumping ahead and have bridges we built in the wilderness with no road, all by themselves miles from any road.
    Fortunately, Gov Dunleavy is a quick learner. Yes, he may be able to get project staff excited about yet another attempt at the project. They may even find a way of carving out a segment of the full Juneau Access project that FHWA can accept as a valid stand-alone. If he does, expect it to take two to three years to complete BEFORE any expenditure on land acquisition, longer for Alaska Native Corp land.
    In this case, the horse is the environmental process, which Walker terminated with extreme prejudice. The cart is the terminal and the road to the terminal.
    Bottom line: Walker knew exactly what he was doing when he killed this project. Bringing it back to life is a huge legal and environmental procedural challenge. The environmental process doesn’t just have to be redone, it has to come to a very different conclusion with, frankly, few or no new facts. My guess: at least another 10 years. More likely: never. It is Walker’s legacy to SE.

    • Wrong!… The money for this project is entirely state funds appropriated by legislature 20-yrs ago. The only thing necessary to proceed with this cost-saving project is for executive leadership to command action.

  3. They are Horrible!
    See! this is what putting our own preferences ahead of instead of supporting quality people. ‘Man’ looks at outward appearences and looks for ‘his’ preference in others. We are get a team of shotty workers. There are leaders who were passed over who would had built the road and would had built this terminal project only because of they didnt fit groups preference.
    If we actually elected individuals that didnt fit our personal preferences, but discern by how well they moved forward prospering everyone, we’d save ourselves a lot of mounting frustration and disappointment.

  4. “The bottom line is this: When can we expect a land lease with Goldbelt to be signed and construction of a Cascade Point ferry terminal to be put out for bid?”
    During this government-imposed disruption of lives, economies, and morale, all supposedly because of the China flu, would it be rude to reject the notion that anyone outside the Holy City of Juneau should give a microscopic damn about some land lease racket with “Goldbelt”?
    If Tom and Friends, with their impressive public-service credentials, can’t recruit, coerce, buy, force, or otherwise magically get support for their Pet Project, why should anyone else bother? Or care?
    May we remind Tom that our lobbyist-legislator team is about to convene apparently for the sole purpose of separating productive Alaskans from their money.
    So we advise Tom: You’re special, but apparently not that special; get in line with other Semi-Important People, buy a lobbyist who’ll lease enough legislators to get what you want.
    Or do without!
    But do stop whining to productive Alaskans. They don’t have lobbyists and it makes you seem weak.

    • Quite a bit of vitriol Morrigan. The money for the Cascade project was appropriated over 20-yrs ago. The project will reduce the annual operating cost of the AMHS system by at least $1-mil per year. The project is loaded and cocked. Mr. Williams is just asking leadership to pull the trigger.

  5. The cogs of bureaucracy grind to a halt even though they still get greased. Maybe another study is in order. At least they could look busy for another 10 years and keep the lawyers happy.

  6. Cascade Point would be the end of Juneau access. With a 90% match from the feds, and an unemployment rate through the roof, build the road already.
    With a road we can gain road access to the mine, and turn the ferry route into a short jaunt that can do multiple trips a day without having to pay the crew overtime.

    Cascade Point make zero sense unless you’re trying to line Goldbelt’s pockets.

  7. I’ve got a better idea.

    Shut down the ferry system. It’s a money pit that serves a special interest group. Shut down Juneau and move that circus to Anchorage. Let the Panhandle rightsize.

    • I was a kid during Egan’s tenure, but I seem to remember he said the ferry needed to be augmented with roads the length of the coast.

      The ferry serves a purpose to support the road system, not replace it. It’s past time to put down pavement, build some bridges, and privatize the remainder.

    • Trouser Bark, better idea , build the road out of Juneau so you can carry the disease of government to a city that has displayed such a concern for basic constitutional rights, you know, like Anchorage?

      • If you think about it Robert, what you say literally makes sense. It would be appropriate to transfer the malignant curse of the capital to Alaska’s new communist center of gravity.

  8. No! One of Alaska’s key weaknesses is Juneau as our capital. It is remote, inhabited by public sector employees and infiltrated by lobbyists – both of whom are interested in perpetuating and increasing spending. Any investment in Juneau is bad. Less bad or more bad, it is all bad.

    • Erak, and despite your accusations about the little city along Gastineau Channel it remains an exponentially greater economic powerhouse than South Central. Go figure. Yeah move the disease of government, I suggest Tok. Anchorage certainly has proved to be a poor choice.

  9. So CBJ continued to say to the state, “gimme, gimme, gimme.” The CBJ Assembly opposes everything the administration tries, and at least one Assembly member was on the front page of the Empire protesting against the Governor. Where does CBJ spend the taxpayers’ money? For drag queen lessons, a brass whale, a homeless shelter and grants to the regional Native corporation. Do they say to the Governor we will support you with your fiscal plan (heading into the 3rd year of the Assembly opposing the Governor at every turn.) The Governor is too nice to tell Juneau to pound sand, but I wouldn’t be. I would say to the Assembly, “You supported Walker and Begich, want their phone numbers?”

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