State Gets Support in its Fight Against Roadless Rule

The Juneau Chamber of Commerce, First Things First Alaska Foundation and 12 other Southeast businesses and organizations will join in the state’s lawsuit against a federal rule that prevents road construction in certain areas of the Tongass National Forest.

The Parnell administration in June appealed a federal district court decision setting aside an eight-year-old policy that exempted the Tongass from the so-called Roadless Rule.   The organizations plan to file as interveners in the case next week in federal district court in Washington, D.C.

The conservation policy was implemented in 2001, as President Clinton was leaving office.  Then Governor Tony Knowles sued the federal government. The state argued that the 1980 Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act – which preserved 115-million acres – also decreed that no more land could be protected in the state.

Two years later, the Murkowski administration negotiated an out-of-court settlement.

Jim Clark was Murkowski chief of staff.

“In 2003 Murkowski administration settled the Roadless rule with the depart of justice, and the way it worked was the Tongass would be exempt from application of the Roadless rule via an interim ruled, promulgated in 2003, then there would be a final rule at some point after that,” Clark said.

Clark is now the attorney for the group that will file as interveners in the Parnell lawsuit.

He told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday the rule could prevent development of hydroelectric and other renewable energy projects, as well as mining and timber in Southeast Alaska, and even the proposed Lynn Canal Highway out of Juneau.

A number of utility companies have joined the case, including Alaska Electric Light and Power, Alaska Power and Telephone and Inside Passage Electric Cooperative.

If the rule stands in the Tongass, Clark says it will be very difficult to get hydro and renewable energy into remote Southeast communities that now pay 60 cents a kilowatt hour for diesel power.

First things First Alaska Foundation president Neil MacKinnon says organizations that join the lawsuit are “trying to right the roadless wrong.”

“We see this Roadless Rule as probably the biggest economic impediment to the future of SE and it’s got to change or we don’t have a future,” MacKinnon said.

Clark expects it will take 12 to 18 months before a decision comes from the federal court.

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Rosemarie Alexander is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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