If you read the Presidential candidates’ list of things to do, it includes building massive green infrastructure (including on federal land) as quickly as possible. After all, it’s a crisis. Now many NEPA folks have never thought “emergency” and “EIS’s” go together very well. So you think that updating the regulations might receive broader support, as pointed out by Hudson Miller in this op-ed.
It should not require 13 years and the 16,000 pages that assessed the expansion of I-70 within its current alignment in central Denver.
Bruce Finley, of the Denver Post, selected an inholding road project on the White River (11 years? so maybe 13 is not so bad for the I70 expansion?) to illustrate his story on the proposed rule.
The showdown over President Donald Trump’s proposed trimming of environmental reviews for roads, bridges and pipelines under the nation’s foundational look-before-you-leap law hits Denver this week — just as that law guides a precedent-setting decision in western Colorado’s booming Vail Valley.
A Czech entrepreneur has requested a paved road through the White River National Forest, on protected habitat for rapidly declining elk, to allow the development of gated luxury estates on his 680-acre “inholding” of pristine high-country aspen meadows.
His push for a road to enable development on this inholding — private land surrounded by public forest — became so controversial that the U.S. Forest Service launched a years-long review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to consider possible harm.
For 50 years, the NEPA law has served as an environmental Magna Carta, obligating Americans to anticipate impacts before embarking on any major development projects involving the federal government, whether through funding, permitting or the work itself. It forces about 170 detailed environmental impact studies across the nation each year, and 10,000 lesser assessments, federal records show.
But White House officials, with support from the fossil-fuel industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are moving ahead with a revamp of how NEPA reviews are done and, on Tuesday, they’re holding a hearing at the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters in Denver. This overhaul stands out as the most ambitious step in Trump’s deregulatory agenda to help speed up development and infrastructure work by rolling back clean air and water protections.
The environmental review in western Colorado that has encompassed nearly a decade has led to careful vetting of the effort by Florida-based Czech entrepreneur Petr Lukes and co-owner Jana Sobotova to construct Berlaimont Estates, featuring 19 homes each built on a parcel of land 35 acres or larger. The project hinges on building a 26-foot-wide access road that rises 2,000 feet through forest.
Lukes declined an interview request from The Denver Post.
For the landowners, the fact-gathering, investigation and analysis of likely environmental impacts began with a process called scoping in 2009. The initial proposal was put on hold to work with Eagle County officials before intensifying NEPA reviews began in 2016.
“I don’t think we would have wanted any less thorough of an environmental review,” said Andy Hensler, a Colorado-based consultant that the property owners hired to navigate the process. “The review is important. And we have learned a lot through the process. We are looking at modifications, things we could do to lessen our impact.”
U.S. Forest Service supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams hasn’t revealed a decision yet, but emphasized in an interview that he’s bound by federal case law saying his agency must provide adequate access for owners of inholdings. An environmental impact statement, 400 pages long, is nearly done along with a draft final decision.
Colorado opposition has been fierce, with thousands of residents petitioning the Forest Service to reject the road, pointing to the plummeting elk, the potential for recreational overload in a forest that is already the most visited in the nation, and a potentially costly precedent for catering to inholdings owners.
Elk herds across a broad area around the Vail Valley have decreased by 40% over 20 years and suburban-style development now covers much of the valley bottom.
State wildlife officials warned of problems as the review began in 2016. Gov. Jared Polis, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse, all Democrats, last summer weighed in, urging close attention in a letter to Fitzwilliams, noting the road would mean changing a forest management plan to open up an area that’s been closed from November through May to help elk survive.
The year-round road and development also could threaten sensitive species, the leaders said, including lynx, cutthroat trout, sage grouse, brewer’s sparrows and delicate rare plants.
As an observer of many years of the Village at Wolf Creek, which I used to call the “Reasonable Access for Unreasonable People” project, it doesn’t seem precedent-setting at all if Supervisor Fitzwilliams decides to approve access.