A borough advisory committee that once received little attention in Haines has recently become a place of contention and debate. New scrutiny of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee started a few months ago and continues amid a debate over the town becoming a ‘bicycle friendly community.’ The most recent meeting spanned from bikes, to committee makeup, to the nature of democracy.
“The issue of democracy fundamentally is people getting together and sharing differences of opinion. And if we can do it politely, we’re doing alright,” said committee member Burl Sheldon. How this high-level observation about government became part of the conversation says a lot about the turn the Parks and Rec meetings have taken in recent months.
In February about 150 residents turned out to a committee meeting to voice opposition to a proposed winter recreation map. Many had the impression that the map would restrict motorized access in parts of the Chilkat Valley.
Now the debate is over a proposal to apply for a bike friendly community designation through the League of American Bicyclists. Here are some of the objections from the latest meeting.
“I as a resident of Haines am firmly and strongly against this proposal in any form,” said Mike Binkie Sr.
“I’m strenuously against the bike friendly designation in this town,” said Terry Pardee. “We all are friendly to bikes. I don’t know anybody that I personally know that’s run over a biker in a long time.”
Don Turner Jr. added that he’s considering setting up game cameras because bicyclists don’t play by the rules.
Chip Lende spoke out in favor of the bike friendly designation.
“All it does is tell visitors coming to Haines that we’re friendly to bikes,” says Lende. “Just like we’re friendly to heliskiers, we’re friendly to ATVs, we’re friendly to hikers, we’re friendly to snow-machiners, we’re friendly to cruise ship people.”
Communities that qualify for the designation receive recognition and advice on making bike friendly improvements.
Sitka, Juneau and Anchorage are all part of the program.
The committee heard from a representative in Sitka who had positive things to say about the bike friendly designation. But that raised more contention.
“This gentleman right here called Mr. Osborne in Sitka and asked him to sugar coat that. That’s wrong and I ask you to strike that from the record,” said Binkie, accusing committee member Thom Ely trying to put a positive spin on the idea.
Ely is the president and founder of Sockeye Cycle, a bicycle tour business. At a previous meeting, concerns were raised about whether Ely has a conflict of interest.
Ely said he did not influence the Sitka presentation. He said the issue was getting “overly politicized.”
“If we make every issue on our agenda a drawn-out battle because one side of the community doesn’t like it or the other side of the community doesn’t like it, it’s going to be really frustrating for us as individuals,” said Ely.
The committee ultimately voted to recommend the assembly approve allowing a volunteer to fill out the bike friendly application. Lori Smith voted against it, saying they needed more information to help alleviate concerns from the public.
By the end of the meeting, concern over an ‘us vs. them’ mentality in the borough was still evident. Dave Long, who is set to be appointed to the parks committee, said Ely is contributing to that.
“You need to stop perpetuating the ‘us and them’ because you said it, I don’t know how many times tonight but it will continue if you want to keep your attitude,” said Long.
But Ely pushed back on that accusation.
“I’ve made it clear that this community and all these committees, the borough assembly, the mayor, we need to work together, we need to compromise, no one’s going to get everything they want,” said Ely.
This kind of controversy over the bike friendly designation is unusual, according to Amelia Neptune. She directs the Bike Friendly America program for the League of American Bicyclists. She said this is the first time she’s heard of the program causing this kind of division.