Very rapidly built in 1995, the base station of this tramway was put on public waterfront land in willful violation of the City and Borough of Juneau building code, City, State of Alaska and federal competitive bidding requirements and other Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) regulations. Instead of advertising this most valuable public waterfront land for competitive bid as required by law, certain City officials secretly negotiated a disposal contract of the land (a lease for 75 years) and immediately gave fast track building permits to the developer in willful violation of the City’s building code. The fast track permits all required that permit fees upwards of $50,000.00 be paid to the City, but the fees were not charged to the developer, and the fast track permits were given because they all knew that there would be much opposition by concerned citizens, i.e., lawsuits and motions to the Juneau Superior Court for injunctive relief. The City officials and developer knew that the faster and more they built, the less chance that a local judge would stop them.
All the merchants in downtown Juneau depend on the summer cruise ship business for survival (I was one of them), but we were not told of the City’s willingness to dispose of the City’s dock lands. Neither were we afforded an opportunity to bid for this most valuable business location, i.e., “The three most important things for a business, are location, location and location.”
The view at the top of Mount Roberts Tramway is nothing special, a limited view of the Gastineau Channel and Douglas Island, nothing like the spectacular 360 degree views of the entire region from the summit of Mount Juneau proposed by Chuck Keen, who purchased the mining claims on Mount Juneau, and for a mid-terminal and base station — all to fulfill his dream of providing visitors a wonderful experience.
What Mount Roberts Tramway does is for $33.00 take you up to its gift shop, bar and restaurant, and to a very dark bear infested trail leading back to town. Experienced hikers in Juneau know when hiking on Mount Roberts “to always take someone with you who is slower than you.” The pepper spray sold at gift shops will not help you: Nothing less than a .30-06 rifle is needed, better yet a sawed-off elephant gun for those sudden raging close encounters. Bears do not always charge, but it’s best to be prepared, so newcomers are advised to take the bear attack survival course before venturing onto the Mount Roberts Trail which leads to Bear Valley.
A few points to always remember:
- Don’t hike in dark areas in bear country and don’t go running (jogging) early in the morning in the forest all alone.
- Women: Bears cannot see well, but they can smell. If it is your time of the month do not venture into the woods on Mount Roberts.
- If attacked roll up into a ball, cover the back of your neck with your hands and play dead. The sooner the bear believes you are dead the better.
- Bears do not like fresh meat, but will eat part of you. Do not expose your stomach and neck…if you are alive let the bear eat a thigh or shoulder, but you must remain quiet. I repeat, remain quiet !!!
- After eating the bear will bury you under an old log…and leave. Wait for fifteen minutes and if you are able, this is the time to make your escape.
In contrast Chuck Keen dreamed and worked very hard towards building a tramway leading to a beautiful alpine setting high above the tree line that would host a hotel, a two story revolving restaurant, museum, stage for performances, wedding chapel, as well as access to the mountain trails and the ice field.
Chuck Keen was well on his way to succeeding, (he had done all the testing at the summit and the testing and clearing of the mid-terminal site, including cutting a road to it), but after discovering that the City and Borough of Juneau had stolen a mining tunnel on the mining claim he purchased for the mid-terminal, (i.e., the City had secretly filled the tunnel full of water and was using it for a reservoir), and insisting that the City reimburse him for the wrongful taking of the tunnel, his relationship with the City officials and employees soured. Chuck told me that although the City did upon his insistence reimburse him for the taking of the tunnel, that at some point afterwards the City officials and employees started conspiring against his efforts to complete the project.
NOTE: Chuck was not an “unhappy man,” as the former City assembly member (Freer) in the video above states: Chuck was always pleasant to be around. What Chuck was faced with was corrupt City officials whose only lawful claim was that they thought his project was “bold,” and so did not go along with it.
Karen Keen has now said that the land will likely be part of a public trust in the future, “but Chuck never gave up on the idea of building the tram.” She said her husband was a man who wanted to build a tram that would put Juneau on the map. She said, “What we wanted up there was something that was going to be just spectacular….maybe God didn’t want us to do it.”
It was definitely an uphill climb (no pun intended), because the City kept pulling Chuck down; especially after he found out that they had secretly taken the mining tunnel from the mining claim he purchased for the mid-terminal.
NOTE: I saw proof of the City’s knowledge that taking the tunnel was in conflict with the mining claim in an internal memorandum (letter) from a City attorney to the Planning Department, but they proceeded anyway to cap the tunnel, flood it and use it as a reservoir without informing the owner of the claim.
I was one of the concerned citizens and an art gallery owner (Artists Cove) in downtown Juneau who filed a lawsuit for damages in the Juneau Superior Court (Wilhelmsen, H. Everest v. Walsh, Murray R. et. al.) against the City, the State and 36 City and State officials and employees in their personal capacities for wrongfully depriving me of my equal opportunity rights to competitively bid in the disposal of this most desirable waterfront land, of them therefore depriving me of the use of the land for 75 years, and a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the unlawful construction of the Mount Roberts Tramway.
Construction was rapid and very shortly after Judge Walter L. Carpeneti of the Juneau Superior Court denied my motion for a preliminary injunction the heavy steel cables for the tramway were being put up…and sure enough one of them broke loose and came roaring down the mountain at very high speed (as a whip), snapping trees and when reaching the road severed a telephone pole in half. I arrived shortly after it happened and saw the severed telephone pole next to the sidewalk and electrical wires buzzing (sparking) on the road. That cable could have easily struck and killed people, but I don’t recall seeing any story in the local Juneau Empire newspaper about it, and the Juneau Empire appeared to ignore the lawsuits filed in opposition to the unlawful disposal of the land.
Before filing my lawsuit I wrote a letter to the City and Borough of Juneau asking for the City to honor the laws and afford me my opportunity to competitively bid on the public waterfront land. I received no answer to my letter, so I went to several City Council meetings and several times warned the members of the Council and the City attorney and asked for an opportunity to bid. They simply told me that the land had already been disposed of in a “negotiated contract” and most of them sat there with smiles on their faces — one or two started to laugh, until I asked, “This is serious, why are you laughing?” They did not answer me and it was then that I filed my lawsuit for damages against the City and Borough of Juneau, the State of Alaska, the City council members, City attorney John Corso, head of the Planning Department Murray Walsh and other City and State officials and employees in their personal capacities.
NOTE: A young lawyer in Juneau told me that the only way to get corrupt government officials and employees to change their ways was “to bite them in their pocket books (take their money).” She continued, “They are not afraid of your bark.” After she saw that Judge Carpeneti denied my motion for a preliminary injunction she told me, “Never take a complaint about the wrongful actions of a wolf to a pack of wolves.”
One of the defendants was the mayor of Juneau, Dennis Eagan, who owned the radio station, a radio station which also made no mention of the lawsuits filed. In fact Dennis Eagan when I once met him on the sidewalk downtown told me, “You should leave Juneau.” Another lawyer who helped me calculate the damages told me, “Be very careful when you cross the streets .”
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NOTE: Another citizen filed a public trust lawsuit, but after spending much money for his lawyer…I understand that the Mount Roberts Tramway offered and paid him all of his legal costs (approx. 60,000.00) to cancel the lawsuit — which he did.