Court Upholds Decision Halting Juneau Access Projects

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday upheld a lower court decision halting the Juneau Access project.

The court ruled that federal District Court Judge John Sedwick correctly ordered a new Environmental Impact Statement for the project, being pushed by the State Department of Transportation.

It would extend the road north of Juneau by 50 miles, from Echo Cove to the Katzehin River. It would end at a new ferry terminal, where a boat would carry passengers and vehicles the rest of the way up Lynn Canal. Sedwick said the EIS did not adequately consider alternatives, including improvements to the existing ferry service between Juneau and Haines and Skagway.

A three judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court heard an appeal by state DOT last July. Two of the three judges upheld the decision in an opinion released Wednesday.

The ruling is a victory for the environmental groups that sued to stop the road extension. Lindsey Ketchel is Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Governors Parnell, Palin and Murkowski made the project a top regional priority. The latest estimates put the project cost at nearly $500 million.

Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Brenda Hewitt says the state will take a hard look at its options before deciding whether to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court or go in a different direction.

The state was forced to defend the EIS before the 9th Circuit panel by itself after the Obama Administration pulled out of the lawsuit in September 2009.

Download Audio (MP3)