Alaska officials call for streamlined wetland appeals process

Chris Rizo Mar. 24, 2009, 11:55am

Sarah Palin (R)

JUNEAU, Alaska (Legal Newsline)-Alaska Acting Attorney General Richard Svobodny has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision not to allow a streamlined appeal process for some wetlands decisions.

Urging the nation's highest court to hear the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals case involving Fairbanks North Star Borough, the state argued this week that owners should be able to immediately appeal if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides a piece of land constitutes wetlands.

Fairbanks North Star Borough is asking the Supreme Court to reverse a 2006 decision by the Army Corps of Engineers' decision that a 2.1-acre piece of property, which the site of a future park, should be classified and protected as wetlands without going through a long and costly permitting process.

"The Corps uses a definition of 'wetlands' that is so broad and vague that millions of acres of state, private, and community land may be considered 'wetlands,' " Svobodny said. "Property owners seeking to use their land cannot, in many instances, be sure of the land's wetland status and need a way to quickly and finally resolve that issue so that the time and money required to go through the permitting process are not unnecessarily wasted or do not become cause for the project to be abandoned."

The borough is seeking to build a playground and athletic field on it, but if the parcel is considered wetlands under the Corps' jurisdiction, the borough cannot develop it without a permit from the Corps.

"Federal 'wetlands' jurisdiction is a classic example of property owners' constant struggle with the federal government to determine their own destiny," Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said in a statement. "I'm hopeful that our intervention will result in a streamlined process in which would-be developers know where they stand from the beginning."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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