MAT-SU—A second federal court has struck down an effort to block construction on the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension. Today U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline denied a request for a preliminary injunction by Cook Inlet Keeper, and wrote that halting construction “does not appear to be in the best interest of the public.”
Four days after Judge Beistline heard the arguments in the federal courthouse in Anchorage he issued a brief: “an initial review of the respective hardships among the parties suggests that the balance of equities tips in the favor of the defendants, for the benefits of this project appear to be significant, while the costs of further delay, as the Ninth Circuit recently alluded to, appear to be great.”
Up to 200 jobs will be created this summer by construction work that begins on four segments of the 32-mile rail extension.
In January in San Francisco, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its full opinion on a separate case where the Sierra Club, Cook Inlet Keeper, and Alaska Survival challenged a federal board’s decision to allow construction of the project. The court ruled against the environmental groups. The 9th Circuit also denied an injunction on construction.
In this recent case in a federal court in Alaska, the same environmental groups objected to the U.S. Army Corps’ decision to issue a wetlands permit. The judge in this case reiterated language from the 9th Circuit decision: “The Court found that the purpose and need statement under NEPA was adequate and noted that the STB (Surface Transportation Board) had considered all viable, reasonable alternatives and that the environmental impact statement contained a detailed, thorough, and thoughtful discussion of the wetlands impacts and mitigation measures.”
Last Thursday, Judge Beistline heard testimony from a plaintiff attorney arguing that the rail line would interrupt “a mosaic of wetlands” and cause irreparable harm. In his brief, Judge Beistline wrote: “As defendants point out in their respective briefs, extensive studies were conducted over a period of years regarding this project which suggest that the likelihood of irreparable harm is small, especially given the special conditions included in the permit that was issued by the Corps of Engineers and the significant mitigation measures required of the Alaska Railroad. Both entities appear to have taken environmental concerns seriously and have acted to minimize them.”
The Port MacKenzie Rail Extension will be a 32-mile link from the mainline of the Alaska railroad to Port MacKenzie.
The environmental impact statement is 600-pages long, containing detailed analysis of the wetlands. The project will undertake 100 mitigation measures, many voluntarily proposed by the Alaska Railroad. The U.S. Army Corps permit imposed measures in the form of 19 additional conditions to protect the environment.
The rail link has plans for 8 bridges, up to 100 culverts, and has incorporated crossings for wildlife and recreational trail users into it. The project is also purchasing 160 acres of wetlands to preserve them in exchange for the 95 acres of wetlands it is affecting.
Read the U.S. District Court brief here.