INDEX — Repairs to Index-Galena Road, which leads to popular recreation sites such as the Blanca Lake trailhead in the east Snohomish County wilderness, have been delayed at least another year.
A half-mile stretch of the route is the last remaining portion to be rebuilt after a 2006 flood.
Work was set to begin early this year, but a challenge to the project’s shoreline permit will push construction until spring 2020 at the earliest, said Doug McCormick, the county’s deputy public works director.
It was previously set to open in 2021. The completion date will likely be moved into 2022, McCormick said.
Index-Galena Road was built in 1911 as a logging passage. Today, McCormick said the road is an important connection to recreation and RV-accessible campgrounds in the northern Wild Sky Wilderness. It’s also the fastest way to get emergency vehicles to some remote trails and campgrounds.
“We’ve been trying to voice our opinion that we really need to get it fixed quickly,” said Ernie Walters, Assistant Fire Chief at Fire District 26, which serves Gold Bar and Index. “A lot of people are still going out to some of these recreation spots. With the response times doubled, the possibility of actually saving someone’s life is decreased.”
Late last year, the Sno-King Watershed Council appealed the project’s shoreline permit to a state board.
Watershed Council board member Bill Lider said parts of the construction plan do not follow county code. Lider is a Lynnwood-based activist who frequently challenges county land-use decisions.
“The issue of erosion into the stream is a big concern to us and we just want the county to follow their own rules,” Lider said.
The project would place fill dirt in the river’s migration zone, the range where the river could move naturally over time, he said.
The plans also don’t adequately protect water quality, Lider said.
A hearing on the shoreline permit appeal has been scheduled for mid-April.
Much of the road had been rebuilt, but the portion between mileposts 6.4 and 6.9 is still mostly underwater in the North Fork Skykomish River. While half a mile is damaged, the rebuild involves a mile-long span, McCormick said.
Engineers plan to move the road up the hillside, and farther away from the river to better withstand flooding, project manager Larry Brewer said. It’s also being built to handle an area prone to rockslides.
When finished, the repaired road will connect a 14-mile corridor serving homes and campgrounds. It will make it easier to reach parts of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, including the Wild Sky Wilderness.
The project will cost $26 million, according to public works. Most of that is federal funding. The county has provided $750,000 for planning and engineering.
An additional $2.5 million is needed for construction.
In Lider’s opinion, recreational access isn’t enough to justify the public spending.
“It’s a plain waste of federal money when we have so many other projects here in the lowlands that need work,” he said.
Past the washout, most of the area along Index-Galena road is undeveloped land, with a few homes and some vacation cabins.
In 2005, before the flood, an average of about 230 vehicles traveled Index-Galena Road daily and 530 on Saturdays, according to the county.
Without the route, campers and hikers need to drive through Jack Pass, which adds about 45 minutes and involves gravel roads through a different access point from U.S. 2. Many RVs can’t make it through the pass, and it’s closed part of the year for snow.
But another consequence of the Index-Galena washout has been difficulty providing access for police and fire trucks, Forest Service realty specialist Eric Ozog said.
The response time has more than doubled to the popular areas, like Troublesome Creek Campground and the Blanca Lake trailhead, said Walters with the fire department.
The crews used to be able to reach most recreation sites in 10 to 15 minutes, he said. Now it takes 30 to 40.
The Skykomish fire department has been helping out, Walters said, but it still takes them 20 to 25 minutes to drive to some areas.
It’s also harder to get to a spot with cellphone reception.
It used to take about 15 minutes to reach coverage by driving down Index-Galena Road, Ozog said. Now, it takes about 45 minutes to catch reception by driving through Jack Pass.
On the Washington Trails Association website, hikers have been posting about the roundabout route now required to reach Blanca Lake.
One trail report, from January, called it “impassable to (a) Subaru Outback.”
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.