State will conduct Juneau Access supplemental EIS

The state of Alaska will not appeal the Juneau Access case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Instead, Gov. Sean Parnell says it’s time to get on with an Environmental Impact Statement that considers improved ferry service in Lynn Canal.

Two federal courts have sided with conservation groups that the state should have reviewed a “no-build” option to a highway out of Juneau. Chances the Supreme Court would take the case are probably less than one percent, according to the Department of Law. And if they did, it could be another two years before there’d be a decision.

Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken says it’s too risky.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good mandate from the Ninth Circuit (Court) as to what they would expect us to do so that’s what we’re going to do,” Luiken says.

He says it will take about two years to complete an EIS. It means studying marine highway routes, schedules, and ships as well as reviewing and updating all the project alternatives. The state’s preferred alternative extends Glacier Highway about 50 miles to the Katzehin River, where vehicles would have to board a ferry for the last leg of the trip to Haines or Skagway.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and other Lynn Canal environmental groups sued in 2006, saying the state and Federal Highway Administration should have taken into account better ferry service that did not require building new ferries, terminals, or roads. Luiken says the department will start the supplemental EIS process immediately.

“They had suggested we keep the old ferries and when we replace them use those to provide adequate additional shuttle ferry service in the Lynn Canal as well as pull ferry service from other SE communities, potentially, when the need arises,” Luiken says. “So that’s the direction we’re going to go with this supplemental EIS.”

SEACC Executive Director Lindsey Ketchel says she’s not surprised at the Parnell administration’s decision to conduct the EIS, but she’s disappointed the governor just doesn’t drop the highway completely.

“You know we think the governor has not been able to factor into his transportation vision a prudent and balanced approach,” Ketchel says. “We’re seeing just huge amounts of money going to studying the road to Umiak, tons of money going to studying the road to Nome and then you add the Juneau Access road. You know at some point in time you have to say there isn’t going to be this amount of federal dollars available to build this amount of extension of transportation in the state of Alaska.”

The supplemental Environmental Impact Statement could cost between $1 million and $2.5 million, according to the Request for Proposals, which went out yesterday (Wednesday).