The lawsuit centered around Shelter Cove Road that’s still under construction. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Alaska’s attorney general is hailing a federal judge’s decision that could ease roadbuilding throughout Southeast Alaska.

“This decision is a great win for the State and for Southeast Alaska in particular,” Attorney General Kevin Clarkson said in a statement. “This allows the State to connect the communities of Southeast Alaska without unnecessary Forest Service restrictions such as the Roadless Rule.” 

The ruling came in after state sued the U.S. Forest Service in 2016 over a disputed road easement through Tongass National Forest.

The federal agency had argued that the proposed route for Shelter Cove Road near Ketchikan did not line up with a map approved by Congress in 2005.

Assistant Attorney General Sean Lynch said it was a large-scale map that didn’t go into great enough detail. Following that map, he told CoastAlaska, “would’ve put the roads, in many instances, over cliffs or across lakes — basically through un-buildable locations.”

The judge found in the state’s favor: state project corridors weren’t beholden to that document.

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline’s Tuesday order granted the state of Alaska, “permanent access across National Forest System… between the communities of southeast Alaska.”

The ruling could potentially affect other Southeast projects including a road and power line between Kake and Petersburg; Juneau Access and others.

“This really does remove the regulatory burdens of Forest Service requirements,” Lynch said.

State and federal permits would still be required. But the judge’s ruling removes the Forest Service’s authority to withhold easements from the state of Alaska for transportation and infrastructure corridors through federal forestlands.

Messages left with the U.S. Attorney’s Office were not immediately returned.