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FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES
CONCERNING H.R. 2806,
A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY TO ADJUST THE BOUNDARY
OF THE STEPHEN MATHER WILDERNESS AND
NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK IN ORDER TO ALLOW
THE REBUILDING OF A ROAD OUTSIDE OF THE FLOODPLAN
WHILE ENSURING THAT THERE IS NO NET LOSS OF
ACREAGE TO THE PARK AND WILDERNESS
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
JULY 8, 2009
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to offer testimony on H.R. 2806, a bill authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to adjust the boundary of the Stephen Mather Wilderness and North Cascades National Park in order to allow the rebuilding of a road outside of the floodplain while ensuring that there is no net loss of acreage to the park and wilderness, and for other purposes.
The Department opposes H.R. 2806, because of our concerns about potential impacts to the environment, inconsistency with the intention of the Wilderness Act, and our position of not rebuilding roads in parks in the Cascades after natural disasters where no visitor facilities are found along or at the end of the road.In addition, with limited financial resources, the planning, design, construction and maintenance of a new road are lower in priority than other needs of the National Park Service (NPS).
Stehekin, Washington is a small community within the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, which is part of the North Cascades National Park Complex.The Stehekin Valley is only accessible by boat, float plane or hiking.Visitors arrive to Stehekin by means of one of these conveyances and do not typically bring cars.Cars generally are limited to those who live in or own property in Stehekin. There are approximately 85-95 year-round residents and about one-third are NPS employees or their dependents.
The Stehekin Valley Road had run from the Stehekin Landing, the location of the ferry and public docks, twenty-three miles north and had ended at Cottonwood Camp in North Cascades National Park.The first eleven miles traveled through the Lake Chelan NRA, and in addition to providing access to NPS trailheads, campgrounds and administrative facilities, also provided access to private property and businesses.However, the next twelve miles traveled through North Cascades National Park and only accessed NPS trails and campgrounds and were maintained at a more primitive level.No private property was accessed by this road. In addition, this section of road was in a narrow corridor between the Stephen Mather Wilderness.The majority of visitors to the Upper Stehekin Valley used an NPS shuttle.The average ridership of the shuttle to the Upper Valley was 2,500 people per year.In addition, the NPS estimates that an additional 500 to 800 individuals would use private vehicles to drive the road to the Upper Valley, for an estimated total visitation of approximately 3,000 to 3,300 people per year.
The Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1998 designated the Stephen Mather Wilderness within the North Cascades National Park Complex as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.The Upper Stehekin Valley Road
, identified as a narrow corridor, fifty feet to each side of the center line of the
Upper Stehekin Valley Road
, was excluded from the boundary of this wilderness area.
In 1995, the first of several major floods occurred in the Stehekin Valley, with many sections of the entire Stehekin Valley Road being damaged or destroyed.While much of the road was repaired or rebuilt, the damage to the last 2 ½ miles of the Upper Stehekin Valley Road
was too great and a new terminus was established.In 2003, another flood destroyed substantial portions of the entire Stehekin Valley Road.Over $1 million was spent to repair or rebuild the Lower Stehekin Valley Road to keep it open to the park boundary and to access private property.This road remains open today.
The Upper Stehekin Road was obliterated at Mile 12.9, a place known as Car Wash Falls, and substantial portions of the road were damaged or destroyed further up the valley, leaving the remaining eight miles of road unusable to vehicles.The NPS undertook an extensive public review process to analyze alternatives for continuing the public access to the Upper Stehekin Valley.Those alternatives included rebuilding the road within the existing 100-foot non-wilderness corridor, relocating the road through a wilderness area on the present alignment of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, or taking no action on the road and relying on the existing trails to provide access to the upper valley.
The analysis found that rebuilding the road along the existing corridor was an infeasible and unsustainable option given the impacts to the Stehekin River and other natural resources, the difficulty of crossing at least one large continually rapidly eroding slope, and the likelihood the road would again be destroyed by flooding or slope failure in the near future.The analysis also found that relocating and constructing the road in the Stephen Mather Wilderness could have significant impacts on active Northern Spotted Owl habitat, old-growth forests and wetlands. In addition, road construction is prohibited within wilderness areas. Both the rebuilding and the relocation alternatives also raised concerns about obtaining the funding needed to maintain the road in such a demanding environment.As a result of these findings, the NPS made the decision to formally close the road and rely on access by trail to the UpperStehekinValley.
If H.R. 2806 passes, the NPS would be required to complete an EIS for the wilderness boundary change and the road construction.This process would take between three and five years and cost more than $500,000.Funding would be needed to construct the road reroute and the estimated cost in 2004 dollars was $1.3 million.Additional funds would be needed to restore the remaining road bed to service, since it has been maintained as a trail for the last five years.No estimate exists for this work.
We remain concerned about maintaining access along the road in the Lower Stehekin Valley.Over the last fifteen years, sections of the road in the LowerStehekinValley have been damaged and destroyed by repeated floods and several emergency reroutes have had to be constructed.Maintaining this road access is a priority for the NPS and as a result we are in the process of doing an EIS to evaluate alternative solutions, which according to the Federal Highway Administration, range in cost from $6 million to almost $9 million.
We know our decision involving the Upper Stehekin Valley Road is controversial to those that have fond memories of visiting the Upper Valley. We want people to visit the park and Stehekin.To this end we have worked with a local business to provide stock-supported tent-to-tent camping in the UpperStehekinValley.This allows those who cannot, or choose not, to carry a backpack to camp in the UpperValley.We have completed over $1.2 million worth of repairs from storm damage to roads and trails in the StehekinValley and have made over $2.5 million in improvements to the concession in Stehekin, which is also operated by local residents.We are evaluating alternatives that would result in an additional $6 million to $9 million to create a sustainable road in the Lower Stehekin Valley. And we will continue to make other improvements to visitor facilities to ensure people are welcome to the park and the StehekinValley.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for your time and this concludes my testimony.I will be pleased to answer questions.