December 21, 2020
Construction vehicles might be driving through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness if the State of Washington has its way.
In an attachment to its scoping notice for rebuilding the Eightmile Lake dam, the Washington Department of Ecology says:
Construction of the proposed project would require transport of construction equipment and materials into and out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Two potential construction methods have been identified for mobilizing equipment and materials to and from the site: (1) Helicopter transport, and (2) Overland vehicle transport. These methods could be used for either alternative. A combination of methods is also possible. (Emphasis added).
In the next paragraph, Ecology adds:
Mobilization of heavy equipment would require a transportation [sic] using a heavy-lift helicopter or overland transport. Non-motorized wilderness transport would supplement helicopter or overland vehicle transport for the lighter equipment . . . . (Emphasis added).
See https://ecology.wa.gov/Water-Shorelines/Water-supply/Water-supply-projects-EW/Icicle-Creek-strategy/Eightmile-Dam under Alternatives "Construction methods – applicable to both action alternatives."
In that same paragraph Ecology explains:
Construction would require substantial earthwork, including excavation and placement of large rock. It's anticipated that completing the work would require heavy construction equipment, such as excavators or other earthmoving equipment.
Ecology's statement does not mention the excavator airlifted into Eightmile Lake for emergency dam repairs in 2019, or that this excavator is still at the lake.
Nor does Ecology mention section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act, which says:
Except as specifically provided for in this chapter, and subject to existing private rights . . . there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area. (Emphasis added).
In short, Ecology is proposing a form of access to Eightmile Lake that the Wilderness Act expressly forbids.
In the view of many conservationists this typifies how, throughout its deliberations, the Icicle Work Group (which includes Ecology) has downplayed or disregarded the federal constraints imposed by the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and the Wilderness Act.
Tony Jantzer, director of the Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District, has frequently argued that rights reserved under its special warranty deed give it the right to cross federal lands to access Eightmile Lake. As recently reported here (see News/ What rights has the irrigation district reserved? – December 13, 2020), when the irrigation district deeded its Eightmile Lake lands to the federal government, it purported to reserve a right of access across federal lands to reach the lake, and to do so by "any means reasonable for the purposes described" including "motorized transportation and equipment, or aircraft."
The Forest Service rejected this view in 2019 when the irrigation district needed to bring an excavator to Eightmile Lake for emergency repairs. Denying ground access, the Forest Service required that the excavator be airlifted by helicopter.
Kristin Bail, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest supervisor, said during a recent public meeting that the Forest Service and irrigation district have "agreed to disagree" on ground-based access. Her remark came a month before the state released its scoping notice and proposed the ground access option. The public will be watching intently to see if the Forest Service stands firm on its position in light of the state's proposal.
Finally, in a recent Wenatchee World article ("Environmental review to start on Eight Mile Lake Dam," December 14, 2020) Tony Jantzer is quoted as saying that the irrigation district would give up its right to drive an excavator through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to access the lake and agree to fly everything in to fix the dam, so long as the district isn't sued in court by any environmental organizations.
If this is an accurate statement of the irrigation district's position, it seems to hold a somewhat different view from that announced by Ecology. Moreover, whether environmental groups sue is beside the point. It is up to the Forest Service, and if necessary, ultimately the courts to decide what type of access is allowed.