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Organization donates to help state’s appeal of roadless rule

Posted: August 11, 2011 - 9:45pm
In front of map showing inventoried roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest, Neil MacKinnon, President of First Things First Alaska Foundation, gives a $5000 check to attorney Jim Clark during Thursday's Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Moose Lodge. First Things First Alaska Foundation has joined with the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and others to support the State of Alaska's lawsuit in the form of an “Intervener” motion through the courts to overturn the Tongass Roadless Rule.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
In front of map showing inventoried roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest, Neil MacKinnon, President of First Things First Alaska Foundation, gives a $5000 check to attorney Jim Clark during Thursday's Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Moose Lodge. First Things First Alaska Foundation has joined with the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and others to support the State of Alaska's lawsuit in the form of an “Intervener” motion through the courts to overturn the Tongass Roadless Rule.

The state is getting some local support in its challenge of the roadless rule’s reinstatement in the Tongass National Forest. The nonprofit organization First Things First presented a $5,000 check to aid litigation fees as it joined with the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and other Southeast organizations as intervenors on the side of the state.

Attorney Jim Clark accepted the check before the Chamber on Thursday. Clark said he will be filing as the intervenors’ representation with attorney Steve Silver.

Clark talked about the support of the state’s appeal of the rule, which was just reinstated for the Tongass this summer by U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick. Clark said the rule will have serious negative impacts to hydropower and renewable energy projects, timber and mining. He said the tourism industry will be indirectly affected due to dock use of interruptible power through transmission lines affected by the roadless rule.

Clark said the lawsuit will also go into rural areas’ difficulty in getting renewable energy under the rule. He said too many still have to rely on diesel when they could have access to geothermal and hydro resources.

Clark said the intervenors will help support reinstating the Tongass exemption.

“I really think it’s important to take on this rule and support the state’s lawsuit,” he said.

First Things First President Neil MacKinnon explained his stance in joining the fight against the roadless rule. He said that among other things, it only allows developments already in progress but closes the door on future projects. Clark also said the rule prohibits new geothermal leases.

“This just locks us right now in time,” said MacKinnon. “It turns us into a museum.”

MacKinnon and Clark both said that the rule inhibits progress and exploration in too many ways, such as the inability to transfer equipment through roads.

MacKinnon also said the rule has different implications in Alaska because of the already limited road infrastructure. He said, “Down south there are roads everywhere but we have barely enough roads to hold together what we have.”

“We see this roadless rule as probably the biggest economic impediment to the Southeast,” he said.

Entities that support the roadless rule say this is not the case. Grassroots Attorney Buck Lindekugel of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said the roadless rule will not have any effect on mining or salmon-safe hydro development. He said the rule will not impede economic developments.

“We thought the court was very clear on that,” he said.

Lindekugel said the state is entitled to seek more answers through an appeal but doesn’t think the decision will change.

“SEACC is very supportive of smart energy development. We just don’t think the roadless rule is preventing it,” he said.

Lindekugel also said this will not change the Forest Service’s policies of transferring emphasis out of old-growth timber.

McKinnon said everything will all tie together in the case.

The Chamber is one of several Southeast organizations that have joined the group of intervenors. A few others that were listed include Alaska Electric Light and Power, Hyak Mining Co., Inside Passage Electric Cooperative and now First Things First.

Executive Director Mindy Rowland said First Things First’s mission is to promote public understanding of the facts on Alaska’s natural resources.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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