9th Circuit denies state’s Juneau Access appeal

By August 4, 2011State Government

The full US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will not take up the State of Alaska’s latest petition in the Juneau Access case.

In May, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court’s order for a new Environmental Impact Statement for the road project. The state petitioned to have all 11 members of the appeals court hear the case, but not one judge asked for a hearing.

In light of this latest defeat, Alaska Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Brenda Hewitt says the state is looking at its options.

“We’ll be meeting with the Federal Highway Administration, because they’re actually key in this,” said Hewitt. “So, we’ll be meeting with them and discussing alternatives. So, we’re not giving up.”

In 2006, the highway administration issued a record of decision approving the project. But in 2009, the federal agency declined to participate in the state’s appeal over the EIS decision.

Juneau Access would extend the road north of the Capital City to a ferry terminal at the Katzehin River, where a boat would shuttle passengers the rest of the way to Skagway.

A citizens group is already urging the state to appeal to the US Supreme Court. Citizens Pro Road Chairman Dick Knapp says the project has been studied enough, and a new environmental impact statement would be a waste of time and money.

“Let’s be realistic. You’re going to go back and do a supplemental EIS, okay? That takes time, probably more time – running through the hoops again – than it would take to go to the Supreme Court,” Knapp said. “Not only that, we’ve been at this now, for what? Twenty years. What do you think has been happening to the cost of construction with all the delays?”

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council challenged the original EIS, saying it didn’t adequately consider improvements to existing Lynn Canal ferry service. SEACC Communications Director Dan Lesh says if the state wants to move the project forward it should do another EIS.

“What we want is investment in the ferry system. But if the state thinks the road needs further study and wants to a full Environmental Impact Statement that looks at all the options, that’s fine with us. I think it’ll show that ferries are a cheaper and better way of moving things around in Lynn Canal and throughout Southeast Alaska,” Lesh said.

The latest estimates put the project cost at 500-million dollars. It’s been a regional transportation priority of the past three state administrations.

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