The Alaska Department of Transportation is moving forward with a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Juneau Access project.
In February 2009, Federal District Court Judge John Sedgwick directed the state and Federal Highway Administration to re-do the original EIS with a full analysis of improvements to Lynn Canal ferry service as an alternative to a new highway.
Earlier this year the state exhausted its appeals to the federal 9th Circuit Court, and decided to proceed with the supplemental EIS. Today (Tuesday), DOT announced that it has contracted with HDR, Inc. to prepare the document.
Juneau Access Project Manager Reuben Yost says the update will likely take another year and a half.
“Federal highway regulations state that, when you do a supplemental EIS, you follow the similar process for an initial EIS in that you produce a draft supplemental EIS. That’s released to the public. You have public hearings, where the public has a chance to comment. And then you analyze those comments and then prepare a final EIS, which is also released for review,” says Yost. “And then, it’s not until that process is complete before federal highways can then issue a new Record of Decision.”
The draft supplemental EIS is expected by this time next year, with public hearings in January 2013, and final completion by June 2013.
Juneau Access would extend the highway north of the Capital City by 50 miles, from Echo Cove to the Katzehin River. It would end at a new ferry terminal, where a boat would carry passengers and vehicles the rest of the way up Lynn Canal.
The project was challenged in court by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and other groups. Though Judge Sedgwick only ruled on the EIS issue, Yost says DOT will look at other claims made in SEACC’s lawsuit.
SEACC Spokesman Dan Lesh is hopeful that the analysis will seriously consider the pros and cons of the proposed road.
“We identified what we thought were misleading assumptions about traffic forecasts under the different road and ferry alternatives. Ways of analyzing the difference between ferries and roads, we felt like didn’t properly capture the differences between roads and ferries, and was a little biased toward roads,” Lesh says. “We identified issues around sea lions, old growth forest habitat, cultural resources, bald eagle nests – all those things are just part of the public interest and they should be addressed.”
HDR, the firm DOT contracted to do the supplemental EIS, has extensive experience preparing Federal Highway Administration environmental documents in Alaska. Yost says the update will cost about two-million dollars, most of which will be paid for by the Federal Highway Administration.