State appealing Juneau road call

15 years of research: Existing vessels can't serve travel needs

Posted: Friday, June 05, 2009

The state of Alaska is appealing a federal court decision to stop work on a road leading out of Juneau.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick earlier this year granted the request of an environmental group to stop work on the 51-mile road leading up Lynn Canal to the Katzehin River.

Sedwick decided that the Federal Highway Administration violated federal environmental laws by failing to consider an alternative that used existing state ferries. He ordered the Forest Service to revise its environmental impact statement to reflect the ferry alternative.

Deputy Attorney General Craig Tillery said the record shows that existing vessels can't serve the needs of the project, particularly when it comes to reducing travel time and costs.

Commissioner Leo von Scheben said that claim is backed up by 15 years of data.

"We believe the record is clear: Existing ferries cannot move all of the traffic that would use a road up and down Lynn Canal," he said.

The state's appeal will go to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco. Tillery said the appeal could take two years.

"The incredible amount of litigation this project faces shows how difficult it is to build infrastructure in a cost-efficient,responsible, and timely way," Gov. Sarah Palin said. "While we are frustrated by the delay, the project is in a position where the technical, legal challenges must be resolved before it can move forward for a full assessment."

The case against the road was brought by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which was represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.

"The state is missing the point. The public's said it for years, and now the court has said it: The state needs to look closer at better ferry service to improve Lynn Canal transport," said Mark Gnadt, spokesman for SEACC. "This appeal shows how out of touch the state is on this issue."

The road is projected to cost $374 million. It would run along the east side of Lynn Canal and connect with a ferry near the Katzehin River. The ferry will run to Haines and Skagway.



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