Despite Being In A Major Avalanche Zone, Juneau Assembly Votes Against Hazard Maps

 STATE OF DENIAL  Let's Not Talk About It Haines Landslide, December 2020 (Photo, Air National Guard)  Citing Property Values, Juneau As...

 STATE OF DENIAL 

Let's Not Talk About It

Haines Landslide, December 2020 (Photo, Air National Guard) 

Citing Property Values, Juneau Assembly Decides To Downplay Avalanche Zone Hazards 

Every community has its dangers. In the Copper Valley, it's extreme cold, wild and dangerous rivers, long narrow highways and potential quakes and forest fires.

In Alaska's capital city, Juneau, as well as other parts of the Southeast, it's rockslides and avalanches. 

Yet, on August 29th, the Juneau Empire noted that the Juneau assembly has "unanimously decided... to not adopt new maps that show updated landslide and avalanche risk" in Alaska's capital city.

Juneau is perched on the side of a mountain. In 2018, new maps were commissioned from FEMA, said the Juneau Empire. The town's current maps were adopted decades ago, in 1987, the Empire wrote. The number of homes in landslide zones has more than doubled over the years since then. 

So, maybe it's time for new maps. But, said the Juneau Empire, "many property owners in the affected areas have expressed concern about adopting the maps, and that a new hazard designation could affect property values..."

•••

Avalanches are not limited to Juneau, which already has them every so often, mainly small ones. Juneau is constantly worrying about avalanche risks after heavy snowfall, and posting avalanche danger warnings. 

The coastal towns of Sitka and Haines (both considered "older" towns in the relatively new state of Alaska) have also, like Juneau, been around for years. Each has to deal with the reality and future possibilities of landslides, avalanches and rockslides.

It's always possible something cataclysmic can happen. In December, 2020, there was a massive avalanche in Haines, which swept away the home of two young residents in the avalanche zone, who were working there during Covid. It effectively wiped the entire area off the map. Fortunately, this was a limited hit. But it was a major personal tragedy for the people of Haines.

 •••

Not paying attention to known major hazards to a small community has become big news lately. In Maui, there has been concern for years about the island’s raw electric wires, which are blown down by wind gusts and start fires. There's been concern about lack of ample water. And there's been concern about the hot-burning wild grasses that have taken over abandoned pineapple and sugar cane plantations. 

In Maui, there have been small grass fires almost every year. And then there was a confluence of all these factors, followed by the raging Lahaina fire. 

The earlier fires were just a kind of dress rehearsal (much like a small rockslide or avalanche) for a far bigger disaster. 


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