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Lawsuit May Halt Repairs of Suiattle Road

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at May 09, 2011 02:35 PM |
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Two organizations, the North Cascades Conservation Council and Pilchuck Audubon Society, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, are suing to halt work on the Suiattle River Road repair project.

Were you looking forward to a hike up Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness this fall? Planning a backpack on the stunning Vista Creek Loop on the flanks of Glacier Peak? Well, you might want to have a Plan B.

The Suiattle River Road (FSR #26) has been impassable for years. After many seasons of environmental review and waiting for repair funding to come through, the Darrington Ranger District finally had plans to restore access to this important route later this summer. Now, these long-awaited repairs are in jeopardy.

Two organizations, the North Cascades Conservation Council and Pilchuck Audubon Society, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, are suing to halt work on the Suiattle River Road repair project. The litigants contend that repairs at mileposts 12.6 and 14.4 were not properly scoped for environmental impacts even though the Forest Service partially analyzed them in a 2006 Environmental Assessment (EA).

The Suiattle River Road sustained major storm damage in late 2003 and again in late 2006, so new storm damage occurred in these sections after the 2006 Environmental Assessment was complete.

This is not the first time the Suiattle Road repairs have drawn legal opposition. The litigants previously filed an appeal to the original 2006 EA, and that appeal was turned back by Forest Service Region 6, ruling in favor of the District. The litigants did not sue at that time. It's possible that one factor prompting this current lawsuit is that the project is now in the hands of the Federal Highways Administration, which is asking for an exemption from environmental review, known as a Categorical Exclusion.

While WTA is keenly aware of the critical importance of protecting the environment while preserving hiking opportunities, we have not seen that the issues raised in this lawsuit rise to the level of stopping this project. We're considering all of our options and are absolutely committed to maintaining hiker access to these special, irreplaceable hikes.

We'll keep Signpost readers updated on this issue as it evolves. For media coverage of this lawsuit check out these articles in the Everett Herald and Joel Connelly's piece the Seattle PI.


FS 26

It seems these litigants are also requesting to have court costs and legal fees be rewarded as well, so my tax payer dollars would actually fund these extremists!

Posted by:

cljskis on May 16, 2011 10:16 PM


Court costs and legal fees are awarded only if the litigants are judged to be correct, that proper environmental review was not done in this case. Thorough review of environmental impacts is essential to projects like these, if you want them built in such a way as to not damage or risk further damage to the nearby river system and surrounding forest. It amazes me how gung-ho hiker advocates can be about (of all things) roads: the whole point of going hiking is to experience nature, but for a lot of hikers that begins at the familiar old trailhead, and the valley below that is just a blur and a cloud of dust. One is hardly an "extremist" who wants to protect the entire valley, watershed, fishery, etc. Road building (and re-building) can have a huge impact, often worse than logging, causing siltation and erosion. Who in WTA would not support proper environmental analysis? I know how bad you want to hike the good ol' trails, but are you so impatient as to forego environmental reviews?

Posted by:

"Mina&Co." on May 21, 2011 12:30 AM

common sense

Any rational person would not support EA, as you define it. You define impact as 1 tablespoon of silt. Are you just stupid? Obviously yes.

Oh no, a couple cubic meters of silt in the suiattle river that carries hundreds down every day and during spring runoff tens of thousands. IT carries so much silt every damned day the river is completely opaque all the time except in the fall. Stick a bucket in it where it flows fairly fast and see how much silt you grab. I am not talking the normal ol' silt from glaciers either, though there is a lot of that as well.

EA, what a crock. The road already exists, wilderness surrounds it, either say you want to close it down, or get the F' out of the way and let the forest service do its job. Quit trying to backdoor your real agenda which is closing down said road as to extend the wilderness boundary.

Its morons like you who give environmentalists a reputation for ignorant air heads.

Common sense, jeez.

Posted by:

"wastral" on May 21, 2011 12:30 AM

Suiattle Road & Green Mt Lookout

I support WTA's position that this road should be opened. Also, I think WTA should support the resturation of the lookout on Green Mt. I believe the same organizations are suing to stop both of these efforts. It is a shame we have to spend money fighting these unjustified lawsuits.

Posted by:

"Arlyn" on May 24, 2011 09:51 AM

Green Mountain Lookout

I am surprised that WTA has not come out in opposition the the Wilderness Watch lawsuit to remove Green Mountain Lookout. The precedent set if the lawsuit succeeds is fearful...many more structures within wilderness including bridges and other trail structures are threatened here, not just the lookout. The lookout itself has been a major hiking destination for many many years and WTA has held many work parties on the trail to the lookout. IMHO, WTA should join the roster of organizations in opposition to the WW lawsuit at least verbally if not with monetary donation to the pro bono lawyers expenses to fight this landmark lawsuit.

Posted by:

"BobnSusie" on Jul 08, 2011 08:08 PM

Green Mountain

"I have friends who helped rebuild Green Mountain Lookout: not just the hewing and sawing and the careful salvage of shiplap siding, but the paper-pushing, the negotiating, the hoop-hopping required to make it happen. I cannot bear to toss their good labors aside." writes Ana Maria Spagna
in High Country News[…]/a-fire-lookout-in-a-wilderness-speaks-of-our-past

Now that's what WTA, on behalf of the many dozens of its own volunteers who have worked here, should have had the courage to say.

Posted by:

"Rod Farlee" on Jul 08, 2011 08:08 PM

the feds lost

..or more accurately, they didn't get fired, they quit. The FHA has withdrawn its CE decision for the MP 11-14.4 washouts. Time for some defensible analysis, and an overdue discussion about how much of this road is needed, and how it should be repaired.

There will be no work on this road this season.

Posted by:

"Kevin Geraghty" on Jun 01, 2011 11:05 PM

the public lost

(Note: the above Kevin Geraghty is on the Board of NCCC, which is co-plaintiff in the lawsuit stopping repair of the Suiattle Road.)

Kevin, the time for a full analysis of road needs was during the 2008 Suiattle Access and Travel Management Environmental Assessment

The time to criticize the repairs was during the 2006 Suiattle Road Repairs Environmental Assessment

The time to finally repair the road is now. You should have participated in previous years of study and public comment, rather than filing a lawsuit to stop repairs AFTER the contract had finally been issued and the work started!

Posted by:

"Rod Farlee" on Jun 01, 2011 11:05 PM