Juneau Access Project won’t get full review

9th circuit declines to reconsider Juneau road rejection

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has declined the state of Alaska’s request to reconsider its decision against the Juneau Access Road.

The appeals court, by at 2-1 vote earlier this year, upheld Alaska District Court Judge John Sedgwick’s decision invalidating the permit for the half-billion dollar road out of Juneau.

Alaska Attorney General John Burns sought a rehearing by the full panel of 11 9th Circuit judges.

A full-panel hearing would have given road advocates another chance at the case, but the court said in an administrative filing that not a single judge of the circuit requested a vote on whether a full panel should hear it, and the state’s appeal was rejected.

A further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is also a possibility. The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and Department of Law are both reviewing the matter, but have not yet decided on the next step, said Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell.

Sedgwick had faulted the original permit issued by the Federal Highway Administration and other agencies for failing to consider a “no build” option in the Environmental Impact Statement. Ferry service, he said, could improve transportation without building a road.

The project proposed by the state would shorten travel time between Juneau and the upper Lynn Canal communities of Haines and Skagway by building a 50.8-mile road from the end of the existing Juneau road system to the mouth of the Katzahin River, from where a new ferry terminal would be built to connect to the two nearby cities.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and other environmental groups opposed to the road challenged it in court, where it was defended by the state of Alaska as an intervenor in the case.

Alaska’s Department of Law challenged Sedgwick’s ruling, saying that it shouldn’t have to study multiple new ferry options, and that it had already included several options involving some types of ferry service in the EIS.

The state’s legal filings called Lynn Canal the “biggest bottleneck” in the state highway system, as evidenced by the fact that dead-end roads in Haines, Skagway and Juneau have higher traffic counts than the number of vehicles carried by Lynn Canal ferries.

“The transportation bottleneck has forced traffic flow between Haines, Skagway and Juneau to remain constant, although the populations of these communities have steadily grown during the 14-year study period,” the state’s appeal said.

Representatives of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and its law firm, Earthjustice, were unavailable late Wednesday.

• Contact Reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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