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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Suiattle River road--the real story

[NOTE: this area is not under consideration for inclusion in North Cascades National Park/not a part of American Alps. However, I feel compelled to address this since NCCC is deeply involved with many issues across the North Cascades, and there are those who would speak out about American Alps in conjunction with Suiattle (it's called conflation, but we're not above mucking it up to clear the air.]
We won our lawsuit against the USFS over the Suiattle River road rebuild. The USFS recognized they had stepped well outside the law on this one. Back to the drawing board, and as we have since 2003 (or is that 1953?), we don't just complain and sue, we offer reasonable, practical, affordable solutions to the situation (many NCCC board members want the road fixed at MP12-14).
There are those who contend we're trying to "lock people out of the mountains"--nothing could be farther from the truth. By encouraging lawful actions and supportable land-use plans by the USFS, and increasing land area recognized as National Park, we're trying to bring the Park to the people, and make back-country experiences possible for people now, and for generations to come.



Opponents point to NCCC participation in a lawsuit to stop repair work on the Suiattle River road (FS #26). We engaged in this legal action not because we want to keep people out, but because the USFS violated both the letter of the law, and the intent of the law by declaring the work did not need to be reviewed for environmental impact. They used a summary-execution rule called "Categorical Exclusion" to push ahead a project that was clearly beyond the purview of a CE.
See for yourself: https://picasaweb.google.com/kgeraght/SuiattleRiverRoad?feat=email#



In reality, several of the NCCC board members, including me, want to see the road re-opened to just before Downey Creek. We just want it done legally, and with minimum impact to taxpayers and to maximize the ecological health of the area. One can argue the wisdom of using TWO MILLION DOLLARS of Federal Emergency Highway monies to repair two miles of gravel road that's been out for several years (not an emergency, not a highway...), especially in this economy, but after looking at the pictures below, and the linked web-photo album, it is hard to argue the impacts on the land.

We measured the width of the recently cut swath at MP 14.4. It is between 100 and 120 feet wide, and 900 feet long. The original NEPA for this promised that "approxima​tely a half acre" of forest would be logged here. This implies a swath width of ~24 feet, instead of the 120 feet we ended up with. Rather than a half-acre it is over two.

End the road before Downey Creek. Have Sulphur Campground be the premier deep valley experience--a real family-hike-in campground within an hour's hike of the trailhead. Flat, scenic and a chance to experience natural vistas and soundscapes.

For those who contend that closing a couple of miles of road "prevents access". Just take a moment to consider what we're trying to access. The idea behind going to these places is to engage in hiking, walking, and experiencing the outdoors, not to drive an automobile.

Wildlife encounters like the photo below (taken on the Suiattle road) do not and cannot happen from an automobile.



https://picasaweb.google.com/kgeraght/SuiattleRiverRoad?feat=email#

14 comments:

Dan McShane said...

Thanks for the update on this road. The original intent of the road was to get timber out. It did its duty and it not likley that within the time scale of when trees might be harvested in this area again if ever that an expensive road is warranted. I reviewed this project as part of the Forest Resorces Advisry Committee. The committee did not have much enthusiasm for spending large sums on this project and ranked it very low.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how many articles I have read elsewhere equate not being able to drive an automobile on the road with having zero access. You can still walk the road, you can still bicycle the road. I'm not sure of legality, but you could still motorcycle the road, too. People can get to the trail heads, they just need to HTFU.

Kim said...

From what I understand, FHWA pulled out of the suit, and I'm inclined to think that its because the cost of defending it is greater than performing another NEPA rather than it being "won." Is this true? Also, can you cite your source that indicates the USFS "recognized they stepped well outside the law?" I haven't heard that part of the story before now.



Your article states that further "environmental impact" studies should be done. Full-blown EIS are reserved for larger projects such as a Forest Plan, not a road. Are you suggesting an EIS, or did you mean to say Environmental Assessment?



What does the NC3 Board suggest for a trailhead at Downey Creek? The Suiattle Trail is an access point to the PCT, which is built for horse travel. Therefore,the trailhead at the road end must accomodate horse trailers.



It is not possible to build a trailhead of this caliber at Downey Creek without blasting out the mountain there. Non-point source pollution from a parking area from vehicles and horses would likely impact Downey Creek for a long time, not just during construction and not just during the blasting of the mountain (by the way it would be a shame to blast away the remnants of the original Green Mountain trail there - history buffs really enjoy it). Downey is a fish-bearing stream (it includes char, listed) and milepost 20.8 is home to Spring Chinook (also listed). I would think that a trailhead at Downey would impact the environment to a greater extent than temporary construction operations around the non fish-bearing stream at that location. The trees at Huckleberry are already gone, with little impact to the environment. A trailhead at Downey would create a whole new, much larger impact.



I'm no scientist in fisheries or biology, but I personally doubt a trailhead at Downey would even be listed as an Alternative in a new EA.



I understand why people are upset if more trees were cut than stated on the EA. But I wish to point out there was a lot of windfall in the last few years that were cut and are likely being saved for a sale, as well as a prior cut in 2005 for a trailhead and the most recent cuts for the new re-route - all these trees are laying about the site, not just the trees that were cut last fall.



I'm looking forward to the new NEPA and meetings surrounding the repair of this road. Hopefully everyone involved will consider all users and all opinions and come to a reasonable solution. As it is, the road can neither be decommissioned or repaired.



I'm sure I'll meet NC3 and PAS representatives in the year to come. Hopefully we can all learn and encourage more public involvement, including how to read NEPA documents and typical terminology therein so that there are no more confusing aspects about the Environmental Laws, the Purpose and Need statement and who wants what.

Tom said...

So filing a lawsuit on a technicality to ensure $1.7 million in emergency highway funds get spent somewhere else is an "affordable solution"? I would encourage anyone still drinking N3C's kool aid to go to nwhikers.net and read the thread in the stewardship forum, then decide whether N3C is an organization they want to support.

Rod said...

Tom Hammond writes "we don't just complain and sue, we offer reasonable, practical, affordable solutions to the situation (many NCCC board members want the road fixed at MP12-14)." So please tell us what specific repair plan you offer for MP 12.6 to 14.4? NCCC has said NOTHING about what specific solution it seeks there. What specific alternative do you offer to completing the already-cleared re-route?

TomH also writes "the USFS violated both the letter of the law, and the intent of the law by declaring the work did not need to be reviewed for environmental impact." What? You must be aware the USFS conducted two full NEPA Environmental Assessments in 2006 and 2008, each with public scoping meetings and public comment periods in which you could have participated, rather than suing after the repairs had started. FHWA apparently issued a Categorical Exclusion for changes in the repairs at mp 14.4 since the 2006 EA? Your lawsuit is a procedural complaint which specifies no specific item in the CE with which you disagree, nor any specific solution as you claim above.

TomH also writes "We won our lawsuit against the USFS over the Suiattle River road rebuild." You must know this is false: your suit was against FHWA not USFS, and they elected not to contest it, so the merits of the suit are untested.

Tom Hammond completely fails to illuminate NCCC's reasoning and goal in the Suiattle.

Steve said...

Kim, Tom and Rod ably covered my questions and comments. TH wrote: "There are those who contend we're trying to "lock people out of the mountains"--nothing could be farther from the truth." Who is "we?" By all appearances, at least one of the plaintiffs in the action has demonstrated an obvious desire to deprive people historically established access. Oh, and FWIW, the majority of the numerous bobcat sightings in my life have been from or near roads which are open to automobiles, so TH's final quip is simply not true.

Anonymous said...

Tom Hammond said: "we don't just complain and sue, we offer reasonable, practical, affordable solutions to the situation (many NCCC board members want the road fixed at MP12-14)."

So you said "many NCCC board members" but that does not equate to NCCC's position as an organization. What is NCCC's position on the Suiattle Road? Should it be rebuilt or does the organization want it closed to cars? Your response is a bit mysterious on the subject.

kevin said...

Kim writes:
Your article states that further "environmental impact" studies should be done. Full-blown EIS are reserved for larger projects such as a Forest Plan, not a road. Are you suggesting an EIS, or did you mean to say Environmental Assessment?

=>in fact there is plenty of precedent for performing an EIS when the fate of a relatively important main-trunk valley road is being considered. The Dosewallips had an EIS; I think the upper Stehekin had one and I know the lower Stehekin did. Carbon was an EA, I think; Whitechuck too. Personally, I want to see alternatives which address road closure in varying degrees, and alternatives which explore less impactful ways to rebuild lower washouts, and I want to see the road considered as a whole, not piecemeal as the FHA has been doing. I suspect that means an EIS. In practice the FHA will do what it does. They might even try to reissue a new series of CEs; it's not clear to what extent they are willing to court another lawsuit. We shall see.

Kim writes: What does the NC3 Board suggest for a trailhead at Downey Creek? The Suiattle Trail is an access point to the PCT, which is built for horse travel. Therefore,the trailhead at the road end must accomodate horse trailers.

...And goes on to suggest how impactful a giant parking lot at Downey would be.

=>No kidding. Tom was writing that, not the N3C board collectively, and I expect he is merely expressing a sentiment that the drivable road should end *near* Downey. I actually think the best place to end the road, supposing some way can be found to reestablish the road from MP 12.6-14.4 *without* felling acres of old-growth forest, *without* armoring the river bank, *without* filling in wetlands and *without* 100-foot wide road swaths (all of which have just occurred over in the lower White Chuck repairs), is at or just before the Green Mtn road. The road for the 2 miles from Green Mtn to the Downey crossing is one of the two significant stretches of road at highest risk of future washouts. And, as you say, it's mostly on hillslope in that segment and carving out some giant flat area would be very impactful.

You are aware that Downey Creek has aquatic value. In fact its floodplain reaches are likely the single most important salmonid spawning area in the entire river. Floodplain reaches of major clear tribs are very important for spawning in the Suiattle system because the main has so much glacial turbidity. I have heard figures like 30-50% of the spring Chinook spawning on the entire river occurs at Downey. Rebuilding the road throught the MP 20.8 washout (a tenth of a mile before the Downey Creek bridge, not the bridge approach) carries grave risks to this spawning reach since it is immediately road adjacent and in fact there really isn't any good option for rebuilding the road through there in a reasonably durable way without putting riprap in the river or increasing the risks of landslides. That's why NCCC will oppose any effort to rebuild the road through Downey, under pretty much any circumstances, where I am using "Downey" as shorthand for both MP 20.9 (Bridge and approach) and MP 20.8 (washout parallel to floodplain reach of Downey Creek).

kevin said...

Kim states:

I understand why people are upset if more trees were cut than stated on the EA. But I wish to point out there was a lot of windfall in the last few years that were cut and are likely being saved for a sale, as well as a prior cut in 2005 for a trailhead and the most recent cuts for the new re-route - all these trees are laying about the site, not just the trees that were cut last fall.

=>Kim, c'mon, don't look for excuses for the FHA's highway mentality. We can tell the difference between a tree that's come over with a root ball attached, and a stump. And any peripheral windthrow that occurred there is very likely a consequence of clearcut "edge effect", and thus a direct consequene of the cut swath. The damage to the forest, if not the earth-moving, has already occurred at 14.4. But it has *not* occurred yet, and hopefully will *never* occur, on the surveyed swath through MP 13-13.8, nor will it occur at the 12.6 up-and-over, which could be a terrible mess. The "up" is old forest, the "down" on the other side is fairly young clearcut regen, but the 12.6 road cut will in any case be steep and ugly.

Kim states:

I'm looking forward to the new NEPA and meetings surrounding the repair of this road. Hopefully everyone involved will consider all users and all opinions and come to a reasonable solution. As it is, the road can neither be decommissioned or repaired.


=>Kim, I very much appreciate your efforts to maintain a civil tone, and to have a discussion, rather than just be a provocative troll like certain habitual posters on this subject. We will be talking, I am sure.

Rod said...

Kevin says "I want to see alternatives which address road closure in varying degrees, and alternatives which explore less impactful ways to rebuild lower washouts, and I want to see the road considered as a whole, not piecemeal as the FHA has been doing."

The 2008 Suiattle Access and Travel Management Environmental Assessment did all that, and considered not only the FS27 Suiattle Road, but all roads in the valley. http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=24529

Specifically, the proposal to decommission FS27 at Green Mountain or at Downey Creek was analyzed on pages 21-22 of the EA. It was concluded that it would have greater environmental impact than repair. This didn't include the additional impacts of constructing a new trailhead parking and stock unloading area.

NEPA includes public announcement, scoping meetings, comment period, and objection and appeals process. Under NEPA, you do not have standing for a lawsuit unless you participated in the above process. You can't simply reopen this EA now.

Kevin pledges "NCCC will oppose any effort to rebuild the road through Downey." The NCCC lawsuit contests only the FHWA Categorical Exclusion for mp 12.6-14.4 repairs. It does not contest the separate proposed USFS/FHWA CE for mp 20.8-22.9 repairs, which are much smaller and simpler. Threats of more lawsuits to come?

To date, all you've achieved is a narrow and temporary procedural delay against FHWA, which will cost a million dollars or so and one or two years delay. Unless you now define a practical, beneficial, achievable goal, in the end, you will accomplish nothing in the Suiattle...
other than to thoroughly alienate the public.

Kim said...

The designs at 20.8 (and at Downey Bridge) have been hashed over many times between FHWA, NMFS, WDFW and the USFS - and a design was agreed upon. It doesn't get any more scientific than that.
If WDFW, who administers the ESA on behalf of the Federal Gov't in Washington State, agrees with the design, and if best available science was used for that decision, then it's a good design and in compliance with ESA.

It doesn't get any higher than The Services.
The wetlands are being mitigated - it's the law ("no net loss").

kevin said...

Kim says:

The designs at 20.8 (and at Downey Bridge) have been hashed over many times between FHWA, NMFS, WDFW and the USFS - and a design was agreed upon. It doesn't get any more scientific than that.

=> That's nice, Kim. Where is the paper or electronic trail? Where's the evidence of formal consultation by NMFS and USFWS over Downey Creek and vicinity? If it has indeed been "hashed over many times" and NMFS and USFWS have signed off on it there should be some evidence of formal consultation: a biological opinion, . There's nothing. The issues raised by this repair are important, and not susceptible to informal inter-agency deals.

Of course if you can produce such a document, or a link to such a document, I stand corrected. Otherwise, it ain't over, and it won't be over for a while.

Rod said...

Kevin asks "Where's the evidence of formal consultation by NMFS and USFWS over Downey Creek and vicinity?"

Detailed in the 2006 Suiattle Road 26 Repair Environmental Assessment, pages 59-61 and 91, and reviewed its Finding of No Significant Impact pages 8-11. http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=6829

Kim said...

Kevin, since 2003, I've simply picked up the phone or dropped by the Ranger station and talked to Phyllis Reed, both as the project manager, and as a biologist, or Peter Forbes. This is how I know The Services et al have been hashing over Downey & 20.8, etc. etc. over the years.

I don't have a cite - so maybe it's not considered credible. But it's no more credible than your organization's claims about the forest service using FHWA to circumvent ESA, and that there were no environmental studies done, and that the USFS "recognizes" wrong doing regarding NEPA. I'm an average citizen - you're an organization posting this information to donors or would-be donors - assuming you've filed with the Secretary of State of Washington and have 501c3 status, you have a high duty of care to be honest and truthful in allegations if you've receieved so much as a dime based on this issue and suit.

I sincerely hope this organization, PAS and Lider consider other users and taxpayers in future dealings with public lands management. This issue is likely going to be a catalyst for change.