NACHES, Wa. – The Forest Service says it has decided not to try and repair the flood damages to Little Rattlesnake Road, south of Nile in Yakima County.
The Forest Service says the decision came after an environmental analysis, consultation with other agencies, including the Yakama Nation, and review of public comment.
"Two major flood events and careful study have convinced us that the Little Rattlesnake Creek Road is vulnerable to continued washouts by the creek in the future," said Irene Davidson, the Forest Service's Naches District Ranger.
The Forest Service constructed the road many years ago on a dedicated right-of-way to support a large timber management program south of the area. Now, other roads in better locations service that area. The agency says it now believes asphalt on the road should be removed so crews can restore five miles of the surface to a natural state.
"Lands surrounding this portion of the Little Rattlesnake Road are managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources," said Todd Welker, the DNR Southeast Regional Manager in Ellensburg.
"By constructing a mile and a half segment of road at higher elevation, we can ensure access needed to manage state trust lands and to support forest fire suppression efforts."
"A repaired Little Rattlesnake Road would continue to be plagued by washouts," Welker said. "This is an opportunity to maintain public access while minimizing flood damage and protecting habitat."
The Forest Service, Washington State DNR, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Yakama Indian Nation, and other partners in the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative agree that removing the road will help limit future flood damage, reducing sediment flow into the creek. The stream is important spawning habitat for steelhead and foraging habitat for bull trout.
The Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board has approved a $360,000 grant to do the work.
The board is responsible for providing an annual locally-reviewed and ranked list of fisheries habitat improvement projects for the Yakima Basin. The board ranked the Little Rattlesnake Creek Floodplain Reconnection Project first priority for 2013.
"Some public comments during our analysis process showed there is local interest in rebuilding this road for recreation purposes," Davidson said. "This has made my decision much more difficult, but I am hoping the public will continue to use alternate routes in the area, as they have done since the road was closed by washouts in 2009 and 2011."
Those who submitted comments for the environmental analysis will have the opportunity to appeal the decision. The appeal period will run 45 days beginning next January to avoid the holiday season.
Davidson says work could begin on removal of the road segment as early as next spring, "Our goal will be to restore the stream side area to as near a natural condition as possible to minimize future flood damage."