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WTA's Comments on the Dosewallips Washout DEIS

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Aug 30, 2008 08:05 AM |

As WTA members and frequent readers of this blog will know, WTA has been considering the options laid out by Olympic National Forest and the Federal Highways Administration for rerouting or bridging the Dosewallips River Road, which washed out in January 2002.

Dose washout large

The public comment period for the Dosewallips Washout Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) closed on August 19, and WTA submitted comments that we based on a very comprehensive review of the DEIS, conversations with our members, our Board of Directors and Advocacy Committee and agencies such as the forest service and Federal Highways Administration. To further educate ourselves, we walked the proposed reroute with representatives from Olympic National Forest and Park. The alternatives laid out in the DEIS were:

Alternative A:  No Action. The Dosewallips Road would not be rerouted or bridged and no non-road access would be developed into Olympic National Park.

Alternative B:  This alternative would reroute the road above the washout, traversing a bench and sidehill. The reroute would be roughly .8 miles in length and would clear about 7.1 acres of Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest.  Alternative B would cost $2.55 million.

Alternative C:  Essentially the same as Alternative B, this option would use retaining walls rather than a wider road bed to stabilize the road surface, shaving .6 acres from the footprint of the project. This alternative would cost $3.76 million.

Alternative F:  Proposes bridging the washout, which has grown to 500 feet in length. Alternative F would cost $8.75 million.

After first-hand experience with the proposed route and long conversations with officials at Federal Highways and the forest service, Washington Trails Association determined that we could not support any of the options proposed for the Dosewallips. We expressed concerns with all of the alternatives. Here's why.

Conversations with Federal Highways Administration staff helped us better understand concerns with stability on the proposed reroutes.  The road would traverse several sections of steep, wet and unstable soils with no guarantee of underlying bedrock.  Experimental drilling has not been conducted to reveal the underlying soils on this hillside, so how are we able to support alternatives B and C?  According to the DEIS, "Along Segment 2 historic shallow landsliding and dormant deep-seated mass movement are evident. Steep slope angles, unstable soils, and considerable surface and subsurface water flows are factors that make this location susceptible to instability."  We worry that, after a substantial capital outlay, this road would be prone to washouts.

Both of the reroute options require high cuts into the hillside upslope from the centerline of the proposed road. These upslope cuts come very close to the boundary of the Buckhorn Wilderness. In the event of a washout, there would be nowhere else to go with the road or the necessary hillside cuts.

Regarding Alternative F, the Dosewallips River is gradually cutting away at the washed-out section. How can a bridge be placed in such a way as to ensure long-term stability and access to Olympic National Forest and Park facilities?  Further with a price tag of $8.75 million and long term maintenance costs that we believe are underestimated, we do not see this option as a wise use of public resources.

Finally, we were disturbed to see that only options that restored vehicular access to the forest and park were analyzed, other than the required no action alternative. Other options may exist, such as developing camping and parking in the lower valley prior to the washout and developing a trail from the washout into the park. We cannot make a full determination of the viability of these options if they are not scoped for their impacts and costs.

Our greatest concern was that the agencies charged with charting the future of hiker access into the forest and park have concentrated on the Dosewallips as their only option, without considering and analyzing other road networks on the east side of the Olympics that might support visitor services, parking and quick access to the Olympic high country that we love.  We included in our comment letter some thoughts about how both agencies might go about conducting this analysis. It would be challenging work, but could pay long-term dividends for visitors and the wildlands they cherish.

To read our comments on the Dosewallips Road Washout DEIS, click here.  If you would like more information about this and other road and trail environmental processes, please don’t hesitate to email me at I can also be reached by phone at (206) 625-1367.