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Roadless Rule legislation sits in committee

Posted: September 28, 2013 - 11:08pm

Legislation that would exempt Alaska from the U.S. Forest Service’s Roadless Rule hasn’t moved out of committee since it was introduced in February by Sen. Mark Begich and co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The bill would allow roads to be built to the proposed Niblack and Bokan mines on Prince of Wales Island.

The Roadless Rule is a U.S. Forest Service regulation that limits road construction in designated areas of public land. Proponents of the rule say it helps with conservation efforts in designated wilderness areas. Critics say the rule hinders natural resource extraction and development.

The Bush administration exempted the Tongass National Forest from the rule in 2003. Eight years later, a federal judge overturned the exemption and the State of Alaska sued. In March, a judge rejected Alaska’s appeal of the rule saying that the state hadn’t appealed in time.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell toured the Tongass with Sen. Murkowski in August. After the trip, Tidwell said he believed there was room for exemptions within the Roadless Rule, but didn’t specify how they would apply to the Tongass.

The Forest Service is expected to make a determination on the Tongass five-year plan soon.

“We will not be able to build these projects if it means that you can only do construction by helicopter,” Murkowski said in a statement released Wednesday. “It’s possible to do, but it is not economically feasible and this is something that the chief of the Forest Service should understand.”

Rep. Don Young and Begich introduced similar legislation in 2011, which didn’t make it out of committee. Murkowski was also a co-sponsor on that Senate bill.

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/canfieldjenn.

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