KCAW: Murkowski asks USFS to defend Roadless settlement
SITKA, ALASKA-- Sen. Lisa Murkowski took the head of the US Forest Service to task on Thursday (5-19-11) for his agency’s role in agreeing to limit development in the Tongass that may require road building. The US District Court in March vacated the Tongass’s exemption from national roadless policy. Earlier this month the same court released proposed a settlement between the Forest Service and the plaintiffs allowing a dozen various projects to move forward, including Sitka’s Blue Lake hydro expansion.
In a senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service budget, Sen. Murkowski used her opening remarks to challenge Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell on the decision to spare only twelve projects from the Roadless Rule.
“I’m just at a loss as to how you have determined that this small subsection shall move forward, when we have equal opportunities in some areas that now, for all intents and purposes, have been put off limits.”
Later, during questioning, Murkowski again picked up the thread of the proposed settlement. Here’s a brief excerpt of her exchange with Tidwell.
“Murkowski - Can you give me some kind of understanding as to why you selected the ones that you did for the carve out, and then left hanging 150 – or 27 that are actually filed with FERC? What’s the rationale behind that? Tidwell – The ones that we selected were the ones that we felt had the most potential to move forward in the near term. And at the same time in our proposed judgment there isn’t anything to preclude those projects from being considered in future. Murkowski – Well, the one thing that would preclude them is that it’s not possible to gain access to them. If you’ve got to build a hydroelectric site or allow for the transmission lines to be built but only by using helicopter, that does make the project prohibitive. Tidwell – Well, one of the things with the 2001 Roadless Rule, because it’s been in a state of flux for the last ten years is that we have never been able to move forward and use the exemptions that are in the 2001 rule. And so you’re correct that when it comes to building roads for timber harvests there are definitely restrictions. But there are also exemptions that allow us to put in transmission corridors, that allow us to construct – in my view – these hydroelectric plants. Each one would have to be looked at on its own merits, without any question that we would probably require more helicopter access with the transmission corridors, et cetera.”
Tidwell went on to say that the list of the projects in the proposed settlement were those that the plaintiffs and the agency agreed had the best chance of success in the near term.
The lawsuit ending the Tongass roadless exemption was filed by the Organized Village of Kake against the US Department of Agriculture. Other parties included the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Boat Company.
Source: By Robert Woolsey. Originally Published on May 20, 2011