DOSEWALLIPS ROAD MISSING LINK


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Eleventh hour for repairs to Dosewallips Road's missing link; comment period ends today

By Jeff Chew, Peninsula Daily News

BRINNON Six years after floodwaters gouged out a stretch of Dosewallips Road, U.S. Forest Service officials are one step closer to deciding if Jefferson County's only vehicular road to Olympic National Park should be rebuilt.

The public comment period closes today on a draft environmental impact statement covering the proposed Dosewallips Road washout project.

That could lead to a decision by next spring whether to rebuild or decommission the road leading to popular campsites on the east side of the national park, said Tim Davis, U.S. Forest Service forest planner.

"It's about 2 to 1 in favor of not re-establishing road access," Davis said of more than 400 written and verbal comments given to the Forest Service.

The road passes through Olympic National Forest territory before entering the national park and the Dosewallips campground with 87 sites for tents and 40 recreational vehicle campsites.

Statement in February
Davis, who has been working on the project for about four years, said a final environmental impact statement will be completed in February.

In the coming weeks, officials with the Forest Service, Olympic National Park and Federal Highway Administration will review issues and public comments before them.

Those writing letters against the project include the Olympic Forest Coalition, Olympic Park Associates and three Native American tribes, Jamestown S'Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam and the Port Gamble S'Klallam.

Supporters of rerouting the road west of the now-500 foot gap in Dosewallips Road include the Jefferson County commissioners and the Quilcene-Brinnon Chamber of Commerce.

The final decision rests with Dale Hom, Olympic National Forest supervisor, Jonathan B. Jarvis, National Park Service director for the Pacific West Region, and Clara Conner, division engineer with the Western Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration.

"We're just trying to make sure that whatever's done is not going to affect salmon," said Byron Rot, fisheries biologist with the Blyn-based Jamestown S'Klallam tribe.

"Salmon recovery is the main issue."

River watershed
Rot said the tribe believes the Forest Service's look at the scope of the Dosewallips River watershed was too narrow.

"What's required under federal guidelines is to consider the potential impacts in terms of cumulative effects," he said, adding that the Forest Service has dropped decommissioning the road as an alternative.

He called rerouting the road "a very expensive fix" that may not last long.

While the tribes oppose rebuilding a road to loop around the existing road gap, community leaders in Brinnon argue that closing the road would be a devastating economic blow to the already-hurting Brinnon area.

Narrower road

Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow, whose district covers the Brinnon area, said he would support a narrower road around the washout that would avoid about 10 older trees left by loggers over the years.

"If you build a road that is not to standard dimensions of a highway, you can avoid hurting those trees," Austin said.

Brinnon resident Bud Schindler, who heard Austin's comments at a county commissioners meeting Monday morning, said the trees referred to were seed trees left behind.

"Look at the number of acres of old growth in Olympic National Park, and you're talking about 10 trees?" asked Schindler.

"This is insignificant."

Commissioner Phil Johnson, D-Port Townsend, agreed with Austin, saying "it would be ridiculous" to building a 40-foot-wide road.

In addition to the Dosewallips campground, the washout closed access to 21 sites at Elkhorn campground, accessible to those in wheelchairs.

Since then, the Dosewallips River's relentless scouring beneath the roadbed has nearly doubled the washout gap.

Sediment flowing downstream has rearranged salmon spawning grounds and threatens commercial shellfish beds at the river's mouth.

Temporary trail
The National Forest Service has cut a temporary trail from a berm at the east end of the washout up over the ridge it created to the west side of the washout.

The new section of road, about 5 miles west of Brinnon, would restore vehicle access to both campgrounds.

Here are the options considered in the draft environmental impact study:

A single-lane road using standard construction techniques, built on the slope above the washout area.

The road would be eight-tenths of a mile long, with turnouts, and require the clearing of 7.1 acres of future old-growth forest.

Estimated cost is $2.55 million.

Similar to the first option, an alternative would use retaining walls and other reinforcement in road construction to minimize clearing to 6.5 acres.

Estimated cost is $3.76 million.

A 700-foot-long bridge spanning the washout area

Estimated cost: $8.75 million.

The draft environmental impact statement includes a "no-action" alternative that would require the Elkhorn and Dosewallips campgrounds to remain closed.

Environmental advocates argue that a new road would threaten old-growth forest land that supports critical bird and wildlife habitat, such as the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl.

Prepared to challenge any vehicle road alternative, they prefer only foot access into the park.

Advocates to restore the road said that before 2002 traffic counts showed about 20,000 vehicles a year used the Dosewallips Road officially Forest Service Road 2610 with upward of 150,000 people annually coming through from 1995 to 1997.

To comment on the environmental impact statement before the 5 p.m. deadline today, or for more information, go to www.fs.fed.us/r6/olympic/projects-nu/index.shtml and follow the links.

Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 18. 2008 9:00PM