MAT-SU—The U.S. 9thCircuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay on construction for the Port MacKenzie Rail project today, and indicated that the environmental groups’ court challenge to the project will not prevail.
The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit made its ruling in just three weeks, an extraordinarily short timeframe for a ruling by a federal appeals court.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos was present in San Francisco during the oral arguments on Nov. 8. He said the ruling today did more than overturn the court’s earlier decision to stop construction.
(see video below)
“The court … found that the Surface Transportation Board did do their job properly, that the question of balancing the hardships between environmental protection and economic development is a proper thing for the Board to consider. And the court wasn’t going to second-guess or overturn the Board as long as it has followed its policies. And here they did.”
In November 2011, the federal Surface Transportation Board approved the plan to build a new 32-mile rail line, connecting Port MacKenzie to the Railroad’s main line near Houston. On Jan. 20, the Sierra Club, Cook Inletkeeper, and Alaska Survival filed a legal challenge to the Board’s decision. The 9th Circuit denied that petition for review today.
Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said he was delighted to hear the court’s ruling. He said the Port MacKenzie Rail project will be a good return on investment for the state.
“This will diversify our Alaska economy,” DeVilbiss said. “One of the things that’s always struck me about this project, we’re looking at a maximum of $300 million that is invested, but when you look at the payback, per year, on a 50-year study on this, the state will be getting back $300 million a year on the assets that will be moving down this track, so it’s a no brainer.”
Port MacKenzie Rail Project Manager for the Borough Joe Perkins is also a former Commissioner for the State Department of Transportation.
“I’ve worked on a lot of big projects in Alaska, all the hydros, a lot of the roads when I was DOT commissioner,” Perkins said, “but this project to me is extremely important, because it’s an economic development project. And it’s one of the few projects that has the potential of really increasing the economic development of this state, which is going to be good for our kids and their grandkids, and that’s why I’m working on this project because I feel it is a very, very valuable project to the future of this state.”
Perkins said more than 200 construction jobs will be created in the short term with four contractors working on different segments of the project by summer.
The $272 million project is expected to be completed by 2016. Funding so far has been appropriated by the state Legislature and approved by voters in a combined total of $146 million.
See the video of Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos, Mayor Larry DeVilbiss, and Rail Project Manager Joe Perkins here or on the borough’s Youtube Channel.