Supreme Court sides with environmental groups in intertie suit

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Supreme Court has confirmed that the state must conduct a ''best-interest finding'' for a proposed power intertie connecting Healy and Fairbanks. The court handed down its decision Friday in a lawsuit brought by environmentalists.

The 20-page decision changes nothing in the debate over whether to route the $45 million line across the Tanana Flats. Gov. Tony Knowles earlier asked for the written finding to be completed even though a newly minted state law allows the Department of Natural Resources to ignore the court's decision.

In 1999, the court issued a preliminary order requiring the state to conduct such a finding, and the department promptly started gathering data for it. A second major line bringing power from Healy and points south to the Interior was first authorized in 1993. Planning, lawsuits and administrative appeals have delayed it since.

Knowles last month signed into law Senate Bill 255, retroactively exempting the department from the court's requirement that it conduct a best interest finding before issuing certain right-of-way permits -- including the one for Golden Valley Electric Association's power line.

But the governor asked that the power line assessment be continued, and Resources Commissioner John Shively said Friday that the state would continue to gather data for its report.

''It's appropriate to finish that, and we will do that,'' he said.

The case was brought by the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and the Sierra Club, which claimed that the agency's revocable permit for the line was, in fact, a permanent easement cutting across the flats.

The court agreed with the two groups, saying that once the line was up, DNR would have no realistic way to cancel its permit. With the permit functionally irrevocable, the agency had to conduct a best interest finding as required by state law.

That process started this spring with hearings in Healy, Fairbanks and Nenana. It was delayed as the department sought an outside engineer, Seattle-based R.W. Beck, to recheck some of GVEA's claims. A finding is expected later this summer.

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