Decision on washed-out Dosewallips rebuild pits environmentalists against local economy
July 7, 2004
Brinnon business leaders, however, are frustrated that the U.S. Forest Service decided to withdraw its earlier decision to build a bypass around the washed-out Dosewallips Road in favor of further geotechnical analysis.
"The delays push the repairs into the fall of 2005, so Jefferson County will lose two more summer seasons of tourism income, a total of four seasons," said Ken Shock, leader of the group Brinnon Prosperity, which has advocated for the construction of a bypass around the washout.
About 300 feet of the narrow Dosewallips River Road swept down the river in a turbulent 2002 winter storm, cutting off vehicle access to 50 camping sites and one of the few Olympic National Park trailheads along Hood Canal. Originally, the Forest Service recommended reconstruction of the washed-out road 10 miles west of Brinnon, but biologists said the deteriorating gravel bank along the washout area had become crucial to spawning salmon.
In place of repairing the road, the forest service recommended last March a quarter-mile bypass road over the timbered terrace above the washout. Four environmental groups and two individuals filed appeals because the bypass would cause the destruction of four acres of old-growth trees that are home to threatened bird species.
On June 22, Dale Hom, Olympic National Forest supervisor, signed a decision saying the Forest Service decided to withdraw its earlier decision to build a bypass around the washed-out Dosewallips Road, before the regional office ruled on the appeals.
The regional officer noted that more thorough geotechnical assessment on the bypass was needed to document the stability of the slope. The assessment would possibly require moving a drill rig to the old-growth site. The service is investigating some less destructive alternatives.
"It's a Catch 22," said Hood Canal Forest Ranger David Craig. "We need information about stability before we destroy any trees, but collecting the information requires some destruction."
No matter what the Forest Service decides about the stability and construction of the bypass, it's going to anger one group or the other.
Environmentalists, who want to turn the former Dosewallips Road into a hiking trail, understood they didn't exactly win the appeal, because the Olympic National Forest pulled the decision before the regional office ruled.
"Without our appeal, the decision would not have been pulled back," said Bonnie Phillips, one of the individual appellates and the conservation chairwoman for the Olympic Forest Coalition, which also appealed. "In essence, this has, at a minimum, delayed the project for a year."
The Quilcene/Brinnon Chamber of Commerce has been pushing the Forest Service to reconnect the road to the campground to spur tourism in the depressed community of Brinnon. Without strong forest and fishing industries, tourism that stems from trailhead and campground access is considered vital to the small Hood Canal town's economy. Approximately 55,000 visitors per year used to drive the Dosewallips Road, but that figure has dwindled considerably, according to Shock.
"Where else is South Jefferson going to find any hope for jobs," said Shock. "Maybe people should observe the food bank days in Brinnon and Quilcene to see all the folks that cannot feed themselves."
Both groups are watching the Forest Service's decision-making carefully. If the Forest Service decides to go ahead with the bypass, Phillips said Olympic Forest Coalition would likely appeal.
"If we lost the appeal, we would probably go to court," she vowed.
(Contact Janet Huck at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dosewallips decision withdrawn
Dale Hom, Olympic National Forest supervisor, on Tuesday signed a decision saying the regional office has identified that more work needs to be done before a decision can be made about the road's reconstruction.
Hom said he anticipates the additional analysis to be complete this fall.
During a storm in January 2002, a 300-foot section of Dosewallips Road washed out about 10 miles upstream of U.S. Highway 101. It cut vehicle access to 50 camping sites and one of the few Olympic National Park trailheads along Hood Canal.
Biologists said the deteriorating gravel bank of the washout area is important for spawning salmon. Because of this, the Forest Service could not repair the road in place.
During the public comment opportunities that went along with the official environmental assessment process, local community and business leaders lobbied hard for the road repair.
The Forest Service recommended a quarter-mile bypass road be built on the bench behind the slide area. This initial option was later modified, based on public comment, to make it safer for recreation vehicles, including trailers, while protecting aquatic habitat.
Last February, four environmental organizations and two individuals appealed the agency's decision.
One consequence of that appeal came Tuesday when the Forest Service elected to review its work rather than carry the appeal forward.
"The key element is the geotechnical assessment of the road location," Craig said June 22. "The documentation needs to be thorough and clear for the bypass route."
Craig said there are stability and drainage issues affecting the road area that the Forest Service needs to examine further.
If approved, the bypass road could reopen vehicle access to 20 campsites at Elkhorn Campground, 30 campsites at Dosewallips Campground, the Olympic National Park's Dosewallips Ranger Station and several trailheads.
"Once we have completed the further analysis, I will then publish an updated environmental assessment for public comment," Hom said in a press release Tuesday.
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