Cars parked on Mud Bay Road. (Jillian Rogers)

Cars parked on Mud Bay Road. (Jillian Rogers)

More than a dozen Mud Bay residents gathered Friday evening to hear from the Alaska Department of Transportation about possible solutions to an ongoing parking problem. Residents who live across the bay have been parking along the side of the state-owned road for decades. But now, DOT says, it’s become a safety issue, and residents need to find an alternative.

“We just need to enforce keeping the right-of-way clear,” said Joanne Schmidt, a right-of-way agent with DOT in Juneau. She was in Haines last week to scope out the situation and address concerns from Mud Bay residents. Her message was pretty clear: the cars have to get off the roadway. That’s not negotiable, she said.

“This really is a significant highway safety issue with regard to a lot of cars frequently being on the road, on both sides of the road, (and) the traveled lane not being passable by vehicles,” she said.

DOT's Joanne Schmidt addresses Mud Bay residents at a meeting in Haines last week. (Jillian Rogers)

DOT’s Joanne Schmidt addresses Mud Bay residents at a meeting in Haines last week. (Jillian Rogers)

Schmidt told the group that DOT doesn’t “have a lot of skin in the game” but the agency is willing to help where they can. One suggestion was building a parking pad for residents with the department donating the fill material. There are few ways that can happen on a couple of different chunks of land. The borough can apply to take over that section of land from DOT, or residents can form a homeowners association and request to collectively buy or lease land from DOT and the Department of Natural Resources to build a pad. In that case, the parking lot would be privately owned by the residents.

Here’s Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan.

“I think there’s some real options that maybe don’t cost you a lot of money … The big thing is the permit from DNR and how long that might take. It might take a while, but if you’re moving forward, maybe all of this posturing goes away for a little bit if you’re all working toward a solution.”

None of the long term suggestions brought forward are quick fixes.

Some residents brought up other ideas like widening the road, or even simply putting up reduced speed limit signs.

Eric Holle has lived out there for the better part of three decades. He said he doesn’t see what the problem is.

“I really don’t think there’s an issue,” he said. “Maybe there’s an issue between property owners, I don’t know. I’m curious as to why this is seen as a safety issue.”

DOT’s Schmidt responded:

“I’ve had reports from our maintenance staff who live here and they have indicated to me that it is unsafe to have the cars parked on the side of the road. Several citizens have mentioned that to me as well. So, I can only go on what people tell me and, certainly your comments are just as valid.”

The state right-of-way stretches 50 feet on either side of the center line. Parking in that right-of-way is tolerated for short stints, but not long-term.

Schmidt said at the very least, DOT requires a buffer of 12 to 20 feet on the side of the road be free of vehicles or other obstructions in case an errant vehicle drifts off the road. She said that’s enough room that a car could possibly recover and get back on the road, avoiding a serious accident.

“I am required by federal law to enforce certain codes and regs, and one of them is no parking in the right-of-way.”

After more back and forth, the idea of a homeowners association gained a little momentum.

Schmidt said she absolutely believes there is a solution that can work for everyone, but it’s going to mean “thinking big.”

“There are a lot of you that live out there and you’ve invested a lot of time and money into your homes and you might as well ask for what you really need,” she said. “You might as well engage in some planning for the future, because I imagine most of you want to be out there five, 10, 20 years from now.”

The Mud Bay group said they’ll have a potluck to brainstorm more ideas and meet again in a couple of weeks.