|SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD DECISION DOCUMENT|
|ALASKA RAILROAD CORPORATION--CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION EXEMPTION--RAIL LINE BETWEEN EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE (NORTH POLE) AND FORT GREELY (DELTA JUNCTION), AK|
|DECISION DENIED ALASKA RAILROAD CORPORATION’S REQUEST FOR A CONDITIONAL EXEMPTION FOR THE CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION OF APPROXIMATELY 80 MILES OF NEW MAIN LINE TRACK IN THE STATE OF ALASKA AND INSTITUTED A PROCEEDING UNDER 49 U.S.C. 10502(B).|
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|Full Text of Decision|
38195 SERVICE DATE – OCTOBER 4, 2007
SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD
STB Finance Docket No. 34658
CORPORATION—CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION EXEMPTION—RAIL LINE BETWEEN EIELSON AIR
FORCE BASE (NORTH POLE) AND
Decided: October 2, 2007
filed on July 6, 2007, Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC), a Class III rail
carrier incorporated in, and owned by, the State of
provides freight and passenger service to communities from the Gulf of Alaska,
in the south, to the greater
ARRC requests that we conditionally grant the requested exemption authority by addressing the transportation aspects of the project in advance of the environmental issues. Even though no construction could begin until the environmental review is completed and the Board issued a final decision allowing construction to begin, if appropriate, ARRC asserts that a preliminary decision on the transportation merits would enhance its ability to secure funding and allow it to finalize details relating to the engineering of the project, procure equipment and materials, plan and arrange construction contracts, and work on permitting requirements. Additionally, ARRC maintains that conditional approval would permit new shippers to evaluate the option of rail service and permit ARRC to plan for and commit to contractual arrangements with shippers. Asserting that each of these tasks requires a substantial commitment and expenditure of resources, ARRC states that it must be confident that regulatory approval for the project is obtainable before it undertakes these tasks.
While the Board has made conditional grants of construction exemption authority in the past, the benefits to a construction applicant have always been subject to question, given the fact that the Board must consider the environmental effects of the construction proposal before any final approval can be given and before any construction may begin. A possible outcome of that environmental review is denial of the construction proposal notwithstanding a prior conditional grant. That is one of the reasons the Board has made no conditional grants of construction exemption authority since before issuance of the decision in Ameren Energy Generating Company—Construction and Operation Exemption—in Coffeen and Walshville, IL, STB Finance Docket No. 34435 (STB served May 5, 2004) (Ameren). Therefore, while we will not rule out a future conditional grant in a case of some unique or compelling circumstances, in the absence of a showing of such circumstances, we believe that the better course is that we not decide the transportation merits of a construction proposal until a complete record, including the environmental record, is before us.
The case before us reflects no unique or compelling circumstances. ARRC has not demonstrated that a two-step decisional process is needed for it to obtain the necessary funding. Nor has ARRC demonstrated that the engineering, procurement, contracting, and permitting processes related to the construction project cannot move forward while the environmental review progresses. Accordingly, ARRC’s request for a conditional grant of the requested exemption authority, subject to the completion of the environmental review process, will be denied. By this decision, we are instituting a proceeding under 49 U.S.C. 10502(b).
It is ordered:
1. ARRC’s request for a conditional construction exemption is denied.
2. A proceeding is instituted under 49 U.S.C. 10502(b).
3. This decision is effective on its service date.
By the Board, Chairman Nottingham, Vice Chairman Buttrey, and Commissioner Mulvey.
 In Ameren, a similar request for a conditional grant of a construction exemption was tacitly denied in a decision that instituted a proceeding under 49 U.S.C. 10502(b).
 The Board’s Section of Environmental Analysis (SEA) served and published a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the Federal Register, 70 FR 65976, on November 1, 2005. SEA is currently preparing a Draft EIS, which will be issued for public review and comment. A Final EIS then will be issued addressing the comments that are received.