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Road RIPorter 4.2 | Clean Water Act | Water Quality

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he oadT R RIPorter Bimonthly Newsletter of the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads. March/April 1999. V olume 4 # 2 Thrown for a Loop Forest Highways Program Assaults Wildness By Caroline Byrd he history of the Loop Road (a.k.a. the Louis Lake Road) is as long and convoluted as the road itself. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps The Loop Road winds past Frye Lake. FHWA photo. in the 1930s it winds its way for twenty-eight miles The Loop Road is a narrow, dirt, scenic road that keeps yo
  I T heR oad-RPorter Bimonthly Newsletter of the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads. March/April 1999. Volume 4 # 2 Continued on Page 4  Thrown for a   Loop Forest Highways Program Assaults Wildness  By Caroline Byrd  he history of the Loop Road (a.k.a.the Louis Lake Road) is as long and convoluted as the road itself. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s it winds its way for twenty-eight miles through the southern end of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.More than a half- century later, the Forest Service began working with the state and the Federal Highway Administration to turn this old road into a brand new forest highway. The Loop Road is a narrow, dirt, scenic road that keeps your attention whileyou’re driving and makes you feel like you’re up in the mountains a long way fromtown. It isn’t actually a loop, but an alternate way of getting from the town of Lander to South Pass, where it ends. From there, you can drive back to Landerdown Highway 28.From Lander the road follows the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River, throughSinks Canyon State Park (where the river disappears into a limestone sinkhole onlyto rise again downstream on the other side of the road). Midway through thecanyon the road enters the Shoshone National Forest and stays there for the rest of its length. The pavement ends where the road leaves Sinks Canyon at Bruce’sBridge, and the road then climbs six miles of switchbacks up to lakes, meadows,campgrounds and trailheads that lead into the Popo Agie Wilderness and thebackcountry of the Wind Rivers. Granted the twenty-six unpaved miles are bumpyand have long stretches of washboard that could use a few more passes by theroad grader each summer. But the narrow windy road doesn’t yet form a completebarrier to the elk, deer, moose and big horn sheep that migrate across it on theirway from winter to summer ranges. Trees line the road’s corridor for much of itsdistance and it cuts a close swath through the forest. The Loop Road winds past Frye Lake. FHWA photo.  T   The Road-RIPorter March/April 1999 2  From the Wildlands CPR Office... Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads works to protect and restore wildland ecosystems by preventing and removing roads and limiting motorized recreation. We are a national clearinghouse and network,providing citizens with tools and strategies to fight road construction, deter motorized recreation, and promote road removal and revegetation. P.O. Box 7516Missoula, MT 59807(406) 543-9551wildlandsCPR@wildrockies.orgwww.wildrockies.org/WildCPR Director  Bethanie Walder Development Director  Tom Youngblood-Petersen Office Manager  Cate Campbell Motorized Wreck-Recreation Program  Jacob Smith Newsletter  Jim Coefield, Dan Funsch Interns & Volunteers  Vivian Roland, Carla Abrams, JohnBrooke, Andy Geiger, Karen Vermilye Board of Directors  Katie Alvord, Mary Byrd Davis,Sidney Maddock, Rod Mondt,Cara Nelson, Mary O'Brien,Tom Skeele, Scott Stouder Advisory Committee  Jasper Carlton, Libby Ellis,Dave Foreman, Keith Hammer,Timothy Hermach,Marion Hourdequin, Lorin Lindner,Andy Mahler, Robert McConnell,Stephanie Mills, Reed Noss,Michael Soulé, Dan Stotter,Steve Trombulak, Louisa Willcox,Bill Willers, Howie Wolke  Wildlands Wildlands Wildlands Wildlands Wildlands CCCCCenter for PPPPPreventing  R R R R Roads In this Issue  The Loop Road and the Federal Highways Program, p. 1, 4-5  Caroline Byrd Depaving the Way, p. 3  Bethanie Walder Odes to Roads, p. 6-7  Janisse Ray Wildlands CPR Annual Report,p. 8-9 Legal Notes, p. 10-11 Jacob Smith Bibliography Notes, p. 12-13  Diane Randgaard Regional Reports, Alerts, p. 14  Colorado OfficeP.O. Box 2353Boulder, CO 80306(303) 247-0998prebles@ibm.net  A lmost, but not quite. This issue of  The Road-RIPorter  contains almost allfemale contributors, from our cover story to bibliography notes to the essay.Alas, Jacob wrote the legal notes, so we didn’t make it 100%. In any case, itseems rare that we have this many women contributing to the newsletter and we’rethrilled about it, so we just had to point it out.In other news, Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck has finally released theroadless area moratorium. We arepaying close attention to what’s going onwith the long-term roads policy and willget in touch with you once you can getinvolved in the issue. Travels  Wildlands CPR worked with Ameri-can Lands Alliance to put together aweek of meetings with the Administra-tion, Forest Service and some membersof Congress regarding motorized andindustrial strength recreation. Thanks toALA for setting up the meetings andfunding travel. And thanks to JohnAdams, Ric Bailey, Bob Ekey, JohnGatchell, Gawain Kripke, Roz McClellan,Wes Odell, Erich Pica, Scott Silver andTanya Tolchin for the great informationthey presented at the meetings.Wildlands CPR also held twoworkshops in Oregon in early March —one at the Law Conference in Eugeneand another with the Klamath SiskiyouWildlands Center and several otherorganizations in southern Oregon. Thanks  Many thanks to Patagonia for a grant to support our Off-Road Vehicle work. Andthanks, too, to all of you who paid attention to those marks on your last newsletterand renewed your membership. Welcome  We have four new students working on projects with us this semester! EthanHasenstein, a graduate student in the Environmental Studies (EVST) program at theUniversity of Montana, is conducting research on best management practices asrelated to roads. Mary Anne Peine, also an EVST student, is researching the use of Categorical Exclusions for off-road vehicle projects. Scott Carlson from EVST isresearching opportunities to challenge roads using the Clean Water Act (see LegalNotes, p. 10). In addition, Adam Nelson, a student in the Wilderness and Civilizationprogram at UM, is researching the connection between roads and fire and helping usout with our bibliographic database. Long-time volunteer Vivian Roland has movedon to other projects, thanks for all your hard work, Vivian! And in addition to thesegreat volunteers, Jennifer Ferenstein has been working for us since January todevelop a report about off-road vehicle management on the National Forests.   The Road-RIPorter March/April 1999 3  T  he Forest HighwaysProgram: Driving UsCrazy Few people have ever heard of theForest Highways program. But when itshows up in your backyard, you’ll belucky if you can learn about it quicklyenough to fight it. The program’s goalsounds benign enough: “to construct orimprove roads which connect ournational forests to the main statetransportation network.” What theyusually result in, however, is thecomplete reconstruction and improve-ment of small dirt forest roads intopaved, wide, high-speed forest highways.The ecological implications are signifi-cant.The Loop Road in Wyoming, asdescribed in our cover story, is anexcellent example of the problems of upgrading forest roads with FederalHighway Administration (FHWA)funding. But the Loop Road, if up-graded, would be just 28 of the 29,000miles of forest highways fragmentinghabitat throughout the country.Typically, forest roads are narrowand winding gravel or dirt roads alongmountain contours. Usually built by theForest Service (FS) for hauling timber,they are designed to accommodatelogging trucks and high clearancevehicles. Highways, on the other hand,are typically built for speed and safety.When forest roads are nominated for theforest highways program, they arerebuilt and paved to be wider, straighter,and handle high speed traffic. All of these things result in more traffic,increased habitat fragmentation, andsignificantly greater impacts to thewildland environment.The Forest Highways programbegan way back in 1921 with thepassage of the Federal Highway Act.While Congress was already fundingroad construction on the NationalForests, they increased funding and alsodistinguished between forestdevelopment roads and foresthighways. Funding has gonefrom $10 million/year in 1921to $162.4 million/year from1999-2003. The Transporta-tion Equity Act for the 21stCentury (TEA-21) increasedforest highway allocations byover 30%, and because thisfunding comes through theFHWA, the FHWA retainspermitting authority over theroads constructed. Foresthighways receive 2/3 of thefunding from the overallPublic Lands Highwaysprogram.But with all this funding, the FHWAonly pays for the planning and construc-tion of forest highways. Once a road isconstructed (or reconstructed), then alocal, state or Forest Service cooperatortakes over maintenance duties. Prior to1999, the FS was not qualified as acooperator because it was not recog-nized as a public road authority. Butwith a legal change in their status, theynow qualify to assume maintenanceresponsibilities. This is significant fortwo reasons. Prior to this change,activists could challenge forest highwayupgrades by working with the county orstate to withhold maintenance funds. Inthe example of the Loop Road, thecounty decided it didn’t have the moneyto maintain the road, but then the FSstepped in as the cooperator. This leadsto the second significant issue: the FSabsolutely doesn’t have the money formaintenance. Chief Dombeck recentlystated that only 18% of the FS roadsystem is currently maintained tostandard. While immediate mainte-nance costs on upgraded roads might belower, long-term costs are higherbecause pavement is more expensivethan dirt.One of the main justifications forupgrading a forest road to a highway iswhen most traffic uses the road to getfrom point a to point b, instead of accessing the forest. Unfortunately,some roads, like the Loop Road, arebeing upgraded because they provide anopportunity to get reconstructionfunding and reduce short-term mainte-nance costs.As the FS grapples with its overbuilt,underfunded road system, it will look for any available avenue to limit itsliability for the road system. But shiftingresponsibility from the FS to the FHWA,or to a local or state govermentalauthority, does not change the fact thatthe road still impacts national forestland. Whether they are ghost roads,forest development roads or highways, itis the FS’s responsibility to address theimpacts of all roads on wild land andaquatic ecosystems. Playing a shellgame with road authority does not makeup for the significant impacts theseroads will continue to cause.  By Bethanie Walder   Highway 12, along Idaho’s Lochsa river, was built with Federal Highway Program funds. Photo by Mark Alan Wilson.   The Road-RIPorter March/April 1999 4 Proposed Loop Road Reconstruction  In the fall of 1996, the agencies (Forest Service, FHWA,Wyoming Department of Transportation) presented the publicwith the idea of “upgrading” the Loop Road. At the first publicmeeting in Lander, the agencies assured citizens that if thepublic opposed the project, the project would go away. Andthe public is opposed, at least to a complete reconstruction.More than 1,200 people submitted scoping comments and1,068 of them filled out the official FHWA survey that wasdistributed throughout Lander and Fremont County. Of thesurvey responses, 20 percent said they did not want anyimprovements made to the road while 75 percent said theywanted some. The vast majority of those who wanted im-provements wanted a little more gravel, turn-outs, betterdrainage, etc., but not a brand new road.But a brand new road may be what we get. As a FederalHighway project, a new Loop Road will have to be at leasttwenty-two feet wide plus shoulders, ditches and “clear zones”(i.e. no trees, hills, or boulders to block your view for 30 feetahead). The switchbacks will have to be realigned for widerturning radii or even moved all together, and the FHWA’spreferred surface is pavement.Most frustrating of all is that none of the public responsehas made any difference to the agencies pursuing the upgrade.After three public meetings, with growing concern about howthis project is rushing ahead, the agencies haven’t budged. A Hidden Agenda?  Another twist reveals the agencies’ determination: as aForest Highway Project the FHWA must find an agencyto take over road maintenance once it’s rebuilt. Statesand counties are the usual choices, and back in 1989Fremont County agreed to assume those responsibili-ties, at an expected cost of about $60,000/year. Whythey would want to when nobody lives on the road, it’sclosed most of the year, and the county was already$23 million behind in road maintenance, is anyone’sguess. Nonetheless, they did, until the last electionwhen two new commissioners were elected on aplatform of no county money for the Loop Road. Thatshould have been the beginning of the end: nomaintenance agreement, no reconstruction.However, in 1998 the FS became a public roadauthority, allowing them to act as the local cooperatorin this partnership. The FHWA will fund the recon-struction and the FS will take over maintenance. Nevermind that the FS is over $8.4 billion behind on itsmaintenance obligations: the agencies are movingahead, public opposition is being ignored, a new LoopRoad seems inevitable, and we will lose another wildplace to a high speed, paved, wide, imminentlyaccessible “scenic” highway. Continued from Page 1 Once the snow flies in the fall, the Forest Service (FS)closes the road, and opens it again in late spring when thesnowdrifts recede. Most years it’s open about five months,except to the snowmobilers (who use it as part of the Conti-nental Divide trail), the dogsledders, and those of us who makea tradition of skiing the length of the road each winter.Except for the first mile and a half from the forest bound-ary to Bruce’s Bridge (which the FS paved, widened andstraightened in 1995), the Loop Road still looks much the sameas it has for the last sixty-plus years: a narrow dirt backcountryroad used mostly by locals and intrepid visitors. But all that isvery likely to change. Forest Highways History  In 1984, the Forest Serviceproposed the Loop Road for inclusionin the Forest Highways Program, a tri-agency program with the states andthe Federal Highway Administration(FHWA). This program focuses on FSroads that serve communities withinand adjacent to National Forests. The1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)increased the funding for the Forest Highway Program to $112million per year through 1997. (See DePaving the Way, on p. 3,for more information on current funding levels.) The foresthighway funds are earmarked for design and construction thatmust meet federal highway standards and that can cost arounda million dollars/mile. In other words, there is a bundle of federal money available to pave, widen, straighten and realignroads like the Loop Road and once the money’s on the table,it’s hard to stop the bulldozers. Because of the Forest HighwayProgram the “Chief Joseph Highway” over Dead Indian Passinto Sunlight Basin and the Clarks Fork Valley, the SnowyRange Road, the Fall Creek Road, and most likely one of yourfavorite dirt roads, has been or will be paved and transformedinto a major highway. Upgrading this narrow, winding road will invite increased traffic and causerepercussions throughout the entire ecosystem. FHWA photo. Never mind that the Forest Service is over $8.4 billion behind on its maintenance obligations: the agencies are moving ahead, public opposition is being ignored,and a new Loop Road seems inevitable.
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