Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Index-Galena Road Environmental Assessment

Index-Galena Road. Way cool Photo by Gil Aegerter
By Kim Brown, Public Lands intern

One of these days, the blog won't be about washed out roads! (but this isn't one of 'em)
It’s been five years (and counting) since we’ve driven the Index-Galena Road to Blanca Lake, N Fk Skykomish, Quartz Creek and West Cady Ridge trailheads. Sure, we can – and have – accessed these trailheads from the Beckler River Road, a much longer route since the road was severely damaged by the floods of November 2006. What we’ve missed is year-round access to a tremendous scenic drive, and summer camping at Troublesome Creek and San Juan Campgrounds.
Much of the Index-Galena Road, a county road built on a Forest Service easement, has already been repaired by Snohomish County, using Emergency Relief funds obtained by a grant from Federal Highways through its Highway Trust Fund.

In October, 2011, with just a half mile of repair studies and engineering left to do while working under a Categorical Exclusion (CE), Snohomish County and Federal Highways Administration (FHA) have decided to stop work and compile an Environmental Assessment (EA) before finishing.  EA’s and a CE’s are both accepted procedures under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), both requiring in-depth environmental studies and designs appropriate for the various Federal and local policies in the project’s jurisdiction.   However, recent litigation regarding the use of a CE instead of an EA on another Federal project prompted this decision. 
An Environmental Assessment means that all environmental and engineering studies must be completed, a road design must be finished, and the results published in an EA for public review and a comment period before work can be done.

Snohomish County, Federal Highways, and the USFS hosted a public Open House on February 1st to kick off the process. Termed “scoping,” this Open House and 30-day comment period will help the engineers finish the design. They’re not expecting slide-rule advice, but if you have concerns about any portion of the design, step up.  Likewise, this is a good time to express your support for the completion of the project.
When the NEPA process is complete, work should commence in 2014 or 2015 (see timeline here), depending upon the window of opportunity for work - that period of time construction is least likely to interrupt wildlife breeding habits, and when soils are dry enough that heavy equipment will do less harm (lookin’ for a good time? Wait for a blog about the ecosystem of soils!)
Check out the documents on Snohomish County’s website, which includes the current design of the road, sign up for email updates, and submit comments by February 29, 2012, encouraging the completion of the Index-Galena Road to  tina.hokanson@snoco.org.


HIKER BOB said...

This is taking forever, what a waste of tax payer money, just fix the road. I figured when they made the wild sky wilderness this crap would happen, you cant get anything done.

Kim Brown said...

Hiker Bob, the Wilderness boundary is not the cause of this delay. The cause is the pressure to stop work and complete all environmental studies and approvals before working. Any project funded by Federal dollars must go through these same studies -- even those that aren't anywhere near a Wilderness Boundary.

The delay is unfortunate; when Snohomish Co, the Forest Service and Federal Highways started working under a CE in 2007, the studies were done in stages. They did not forsee the 2010 litigation on another forest road project that prompted them to stop work and do an EA this close to the finish.