By Shannon Dininny Associated Press
YAKIMA — The National Park Service released a long-awaited plan Monday for rebuilding a road in a popular North Cascades outdoors area where floods have wiped parts of it out several times in the past two decades.
The Stehekin River Valley, reachable only by air, boat or on foot, is a popular stopping point for backpackers on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail and in the North Cascades. The area sits in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service as part of North Cascades National Park.
About 100 people live there year-round, and a collection of rustic homes and summer cabins dot the valley from the end of Lake Chelan, along the Stehekin River, to the road’s end in the wilderness.
But residents endured record floods in 1995, 2003 and 2006, and the Park Service has been working for years to minimize damage from future floods.
The agency’s preferred alternative for alleviating damage calls for rerouting about two miles of the Stehekin Valley Road around a flood-prone meadow and adding a spur to connect the new road to seasonal homes in that meadow. The connecting spur is contingent on two property owners approving the easements.
Maintaining a road to those homes was a key concern from people who commented in an earlier draft of the proposal, North Cascades National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins said.
However, a number of people also maintained that the government should instead dredge the river and build dikes to protect the road and property.
“That is hugely expensive, and it’s something that would have to go on in perpetuity,” he said. “”Ultimately, that is not really sustainable or appropriate.”
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate for the one-time removal of 100,000 cubic yards of gravel from two sections of the river was $12 million.
The preferred plan would cost about $28 million.
The plan also revises priorities for land exchanges with private property owners who seek to have the Park Service buy their flood-prone properties. That process cut the number of high-priority properties in half, from 66 parcels in 2010 to 31 parcels, said Jon Riedel, a park geologist.
Following the 2010 draft plan, some residents had the misperception that the Park Service would aggressively try to acquire properties that were identified as high or medium risk for flooding, Jenkins said.
“That’s simply not true. The plan guides our response when a private property owner comes to us and says, ‘Hey, would you be willing to do an exchange or purchase this,”’ he said. “We revised the criteria to make it clearer that our highest level of priority is really those areas most directly threatened by flooding.”
Under the plan, the Park Service would relocate maintenance facilities and employee houses that are in the flood zone. Additional recreational facilities would be added, such as camp sites, trails and a raft takeout at the river’s mouth.