MAT-SU—The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued its full opinion Jan. 23, on a challenge to the Port MacKenzie Rail project. The 32-page opinion describes the project's environmental document as a "detailed, thorough, and thoughtful discussion on the wetlands impacts and mitigation measures." The rail extension will be a 32-mile link from the Alaska mainline to the deepwater dock at Port MacKenzie. Up to four segments of the project are anticipated to be under construction this summer, creating some 200 jobs.
A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its summary judgement in November. It was great news to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, one of the intervenors in the case, and the local government that is building the extension with the Alaska Railroad.
See the reaction to the summary judgement in November on video here.
In the conclusion of the full opinion, the last paragraph reads:
"We hold that the procedures of the STB under the ICCTA were sufficient and were satisfied and that there was no error under NEPA because the purpose and need statement was adequate; the agency considered all viable, reasonable alternatives; and the EIS contains a detailed, thorough, and thoughtful discussion of the wetlands impacts and mitigation measures. Concluding that there was no violation of the ICCTA, NEPA, or the APA, we deny the petition for review."
The rail project is not free of legal challenges yet. Another court case with the same petitioners is in the Federal District Court in Alaska over a challenge to the U.S. Army Corps permit in the wetlands. The case is expected to get a hearing in February.
"Our state's effort to develop natural resources beyond oil is stalled by these legal whims," said Mat-Su Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss. "One year in court adds delays for the 200 anticipated jobs by summer, and thousands of jobs longterm. Thank goodness the 9th Circuit Court saw through this and is allowing construction to begin again. However, after losing in San Francisco, the Sierra Club and Cook Inlet Keeper are taking a second bite of the apple in an Alaska court. We hope the project prevails again," DeVilbiss said.