Road ruling leaves uncertainties

Supporters, opponents await state's stance on additional ferry study

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Juneau Legislators are saying Friday's court ruling against the Juneau Road may set the project back for years, if it goes forward at all.

"I'm very concerned about the delay in the project," said Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau.

She was asked about the Juneau Access Project at a press conference by members of the Republican-led House majority on Monday.

The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is advocating a road up Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal at Katzehin offering regular connections with Haines and Skagway.

Muñoz said she did not know where Gov. Sarah Palin currently stands on the issue.

"The position was to wait until the court system completed its work, then a decision would be made," she said. "It's uncertain now where the administration is."

Palin said during her campaign for governor she supported the road, but more recently has been backing away from that support.

A federal district judge ruled Friday that DOT's Environmental Impact Statement was inadequate because it did not consider the option of improving ferry service instead of building a road.

State offices were closed Monday for President's Day, but transportation officials said Friday they were still in the process of reviewing the decision.

The Department recently began a $300,000 outside review of the project's cost, estimated at $350 million, on top of the $24 million already spent on preliminary work.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he still wants to see the results of that study.

"I hope the court's decision Friday does not get in the way of what the department has committed to doing, that is having an independent review of the cost," he said.

It's not possible to make a good decision about what should be done to improve transportation up Lynn Canal without knowing what the project will cost, he said.

"I think until we have a good handle on what the costs are, or what the challenges are, engineering challenges of avalanche chutes and difficult terrain, it seems to me that it is too early to talk about what the next legal step has to be," Elton said.

Muñoz said it appears that there may need to be a supplemental EIS done to include the ferry alternatives suggested by the judge.

"I'm very interested in working with the governor to see that happens, that the EIS stays on track," she said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, Juneau's third legislator, declined comment.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which led a coalition of environmental groups in challenging the project in court, said they look forward to a new study that took the judge's comments into consideration.

"SEACC is excited there's going to be a strong look at the ferry alternative," said Lindsey Ketchel, SEACC's executive director.

Given the current political climate, that's the only viable alternative, she said.

"I think they know that the governor is not going to be putting any kind of appropriation toward building that road," she said.

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



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