Friday, November 30, 2012

Construction stay lifted on Port MacKenzie rail project

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay on construction for Alaska's Port MacKenzie Rail project Nov. 28 and indicated that the environmental groups' court challenge to the project will not prevail.

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.

"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 mainline near Houston, Alaska. On Jan. 20, 2012, the Sierra Club, Cook Inletkeeper and Alaska Survival filed a legal challenge to the board's decision. The 9th Circuit has denied that petition for review.

"I've worked on a lot of big projects in Alaska, all the hydros, a lot of the roads when I was DOT commissioner," Port MacKenzie Rail Project Manager for the borough Joe 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.

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