Not all good news comes from the courthouse. Sometimes sensibility and common sense reign and smart policy decisions are made without any litigation. While it may have taken longer than necessary, we are elated to see Governor Walker shut down the Knik Arm bridge project. This boondoggle, often referred to as one of the bridges to nowhere, has been a looming threat for a decade and sucking up millions of dollars each year in a desperate attempt to get the project financed and under construction.
A Decade of Work Fighting the Bridge to Nowhere
Since 2006, Trustees for Alaska has worked closely with Friends of Government Hill, the former Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, and individuals opposed to the Knik Arm bridge. Over the years, Trustees has followed a variety of permitting processes, submitted numerous comments to agencies, attempted to intervene in the Municipality’s lawsuit against the Federal Highways Association, and provided legal counsel and strategic advice to our clients on matters including compliance with environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Transportation Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“Trustees of Alaska were extremely helpful at several points during our protracted thirteen-year battle against the Knik Arm Crossing,” said Stephanie Kessler of Friends of Government Hill. “Their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) expertise was invaluable. They also helped craft our successful request for a Supplemental EIS. In addition to legal guidance, they were warmly supportive of our efforts – they even provided our meeting space.”
We have helped our clients pressure the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA) over its ongoing inability to answer critical questions including how the full cost of the bridge and its access roads would be funded and how KABATA planned to modify the proposed bridge design to protect Cook Inlet beluga whales. The project had sought authorization to “take” 78 belugas. The Cook Inlet beluga population has been slowly declining and hovers at a dangerously small population of approximately 300 whales.
To see the Governor finally pull the plug on this project is a victory we are happy to celebrate. And for the belugas, it is a relief to know that they can continue to swim through Knik Arm hunting salmon without harm from this dubious project.
Is it Really Dead?
As we all know, projects like this seem to have the resilience of a phoenix, rising from the ashes. Indeed, while the Governor has eliminated funding, KABATA’s own Judy Dougherty stated that KABATA needs to make sure the bridge-project library is ‘in a condition to where it can be picked up and moved forward when the time comes.’ (see Governor shuts down work on Knik Arm Crossing, Susitna dam, June 30, 2016) Should the State ever decide to pull this project off the shelves, we will be ready to roll up our sleeves once again and work to defeat this uneconomical and environmentally-unsound project.
Clients: Friends of Government Hill, the former Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, and individuals opposed to the project.
Attorneys: Brian Litmans