MAT-SU—For a second time, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request to stop construction on the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension. Yesterday the order was issued in San Francisco, denying an emergency appeal by Cook Inlet Keeper, Sierra Club, and Alaska Survival.
Two weeks ago, Cook Inlet Keeper lost in federal court in Anchorage on its request for an injunction on construction, when U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline ruled in just four days against halting construction on the 32-mile rail link. “(Stopping construction) does not appear to be in the best interest of the public,” Judge Beistline wrote then.
Cook Inlet Keeper and co-petitioners took it to the 9th Circuit Court as an emergency request and lost yesterday. The environmental groups can file a similar request on a regular timeline to halt construction in the 9th Circuit despite the emergency motion being denied yesterday.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss says the lawsuits are obstructionist and continually chew up taxpayer dollars. “The current federal administration is a liberal administration. The federal agencies under this administration have approved this project. And that’s still not enough for these petitioners. What is—no development. We see transportation infrastructure development as good development. It’s a foundation of a civilized society,” DeVilbiss said.
Judge Beistline still has not yet ruled on the merits of the U.S. Army Corps’ decision to issue a permit approving construction of the rail link in wetlands.
The 9th Circuit has ruled on the merits of the rail project already regarding a different federal agency, the Surface Transportation Board. In the January ruling the 9th Circuit panel wrote “the environmental impact statement contained detailed, thorough, and thoughtful discussion of wetlands impacts and mitigation measures.”
The environmental impact statement is 600 pages. The project will undertake 100 mitigation measures, many voluntarily proposed by the Alaska Railroad. The project is also purchasing 160 acres of wetlands to preserve in exchange for the 95 acres of wetlands the project is affecting.
This summer, four segments of the rail embankment will be under construction, creating up to 200 jobs. Connecting Port MacKenzie by rail to the mainline of the Alaska Railroad will make the natural resources of the Interior 141 miles closer to a deep-water dock.