OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — The National Park Service has released its second environmental assessment related to its effort to restore vehicle access into the heart of the Elwha Valley and, starting today, is accepting public comment.
The National Park Service is accepting comments on the environmental assessment (EA) through Dec. 18.
During the 45-day public comment period, the park will host one in-person public meeting where Olympic National Park and Federal Highways staff will be available to discuss the EA.
The meeting is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center, 401 E. First St. in Port Angeles. The presentation will begin at 5:45 p.m. followed by a question-and-answer period.
The purpose of the project is to rehabilitate the 8.2 mile Olympic Hot Springs Road within Olympic National Park to ensure public and administrative access to visitor use areas within the Elwha Valley.
The rehabilitated roadway would provide year-round road access to the Elwha Ranger Station and Glines Canyon Spillway Overlook, and seasonal access to Whiskey Bend Road and the upper portion of Olympic Hot Springs Road to Boulder Creek Trailhead.
“Long-term and sustainable public access in the Elwha Valley is important for public enjoyment. The Olympic Hot Springs Road provides access to Olympic’s gorgeous high country, the Elwha Historic District, and the continuing restoration of the Elwha River following the largest dam removal in history,” Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a statement. “We appreciate the public’s participation in this process.”
The park has struggled to maintain access to the Elwha Valley via Olympic Hot Springs Road since the completion of the dam removal project in 2014.
The first step was a geotechnical investigation, which also required an environmental assessment, to determine the engineering feasibility of a potential road relocation at the Elwha Campground. Initial monitoring results have indicated that relocating the one-mile section of road between Sander’s Creek and the Elwha Ranger Station would be feasible.
The area has been washed out by the Elwha River since it was freed from two dams, which were removed ending in 2014.
The latest environmental assessment lays out three options for restoring vehicle access to the Elwha Valley, including a no-action alternative.
Under the no-action alternative, vehicle access beyond the gate at Madison Falls would be unavailable. The road would deteriorate and flooding of the lower portion of the road would likely continue.
The park would maintain trail access to beyond the washout and the bypass trail would continue to be open to foot use, equestrian use and bicycles.
Olympic National Park is required to provide the 11 landowners in the Elwha Valley access to their properties, but it is not required to provide vehicle access, according to the EA.
The second alternative calls for obliterating one mile of the lower Olympic Hot Springs Road and rerouting it above the floodplain.
Additional geotechnical drilling is necessary to confirm the initial findings that this option is feasible. It could include helicopter-assisted drilling off the proposed roadway to clarify slope stability issues.
Once built, the existing one-mile portion of the roadway, which passes by the former Elwha Campground, would be removed and the area restored.
This option would require cutting trees and adding fill over the length of the reroute, creating risk for increased rock fall and landslides.
According to the EA, the risk of earth movement is “small” and hazards can be addressed by adding structures, such as retaining walls and culverts.
The third option is to raise the road in the floodplain by an average of 15 feet.
This option includes a 1,400-foot-long bridge that would have about eight piers that would be protected by riprap and large woody debris.
Other roadway sections afflicted by flooding would also be reinforced.
The EA is available online at parkplanning.nps.gov/
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.