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Forest Service says scenic road can be repaired
Times Snohomish County bureau
A scenic road between Darrington and Granite Falls, parts of which have been closed since an October 2003 flood caused washouts, may finally be repaired during summer, if an Everett-based environmental group doesn't fight the plans.
After studying environmental issues and making plans, the U.S. Forest Service is about to put out a decision notice saying there would be no significant environmental impact to repairing and reopening the four unpaved gaps where the Mountain Loop Highway was washed out in 2003, said acting Ranger Phyllis Reed of the Darrington Ranger District.
The notice, which should be ready in a couple of weeks, will allow the Forest Service to hire someone to repair the popular scenic drive, Reed said.
As many as 600 vehicles a day used the road on holiday weekends, according to the environmental assessment prepared by the Forest Service.
The road also provides access to a number of popular trails that have been closed since the flood, Reed said. One is the Goat Lake Trail, which had been heavily used and will reopen once the road does, Reed said.
Release of the decision notice will open a 45-day window in which anyone can appeal the decision, Reed said.
Katherine Johnson, the forest-practices chairwoman for the Pilchuck Audubon Society in Everett, said she doesn't know yet whether her organization will appeal. But in a letter to Forest Service officials last year, the group said it opposed reopening the road, for environmental and economic reasons.
The letter, written by Johnson, said the road should be turned into a trail and mostly revegetated.
The letter attacked the environmental assessment by the Forest Service, contending the work required to repair and reopen the road would have much more environmental impact than the Forest Service document suggested.
Johnson's letter also said the road is not sustainable because it washes out about every 10 years anyway.
"I think the Forest Service is optimistic that the design of the road repair does address the concerns and the issues that have been raised," she said.
If the decision notice is not appealed, construction could begin as early as summer, Reed said. If it's appealed, the process could take much longer.
Darrington Mayor Joyce Jones expressed hope that the road will be open sooner rather than later.
It's a potential source of tourist dollars for the mountain town, which has been looking for new sources of revenue since logging in the area was cut back.
"It's a beautiful drive for anyone who has a handicap" and can't walk the trails, Jones said. "We're hoping that they could have it open, maybe not by the end of this year, but maybe next year."
Even without the delay of an appeal and a court battle that might result, trying to make repairs to the loop already has proved to be a long and complex process, Reed said.
Really, all this is about "putting the 'Loop' back in the Mountain Loop," she said.
Brian Alexander: 425-745-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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