The Christian Science Monitor has a story on Alaska Roadless here. I’m not an Alaska expert, but my Roadless Geek antennae started quivering when I read the the below bolded statements.
Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, is the state’s senior senator. Her opposition to the Roadless Rule is “not only about timber,” she says in a phone interview. She says the rule hampers access to mineral resources and hydroelectric sites. The goal, she says, is to “make sure people can actually access the region.”
Mr. Watson, the former Craig mayor, hopes that a new mine extracting rare earth metals, elements in demand for electronics and high performance magnets, will soon open at an inaccessible site on the island, the first such mine in the U.S. But he says red tape could slow approval of a road to the location, even though the Roadless Rule permits transportation corridors in support of such nonlogging activities. “We’d like to have things happen on this island that will allow us to survive,” he said.
Eric Jorgensen, managing attorney of EarthJustice’s Alaska office and veteran of more than a dozen lawsuits countering challenges to the Roadless Rule, says Mr. Watson’s and Sen. Murkowski’s concern is “not based in reality.” He says that “even if red tape were a problem, that would not be a rationale for gutting the rule,” as the Forest Service could solve that issue without allowing new logging roads.
Since we had issues and even litigation about a linear construction zone for a pipeline under the 2001 Rule, I was surprised that the writer (or perhaps Mr. Watson?) said that the 2001 Roadless Rule “permits transportation corridors in support of such nonlogging activities.” It almost sounds as if only “logging” roads are not allowed by the 2001 Rule.
Here’s what the Rule says exactly. It’s short and simple.
§ 294.12 Prohibition on road construction and road reconstruction in inventoried roadless areas.
(a) A road may not be constructed or reconstructed in inventoried roadless areas of the National Forest System, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section.
(b) Notwithstanding the prohibition in paragraph (a) of this section, a road may be constructed or reconstructed in an inventoried roadless area if the Responsible Official determines that one of the following circumstances exists:
(1) A road is needed to protect public health and safety in cases of an imminent threat of flood, fire, or other catastrophic event that, without intervention, would cause the loss of life or property;
(2) A road is needed to conduct a response action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) or to conduct a natural resource restoration action under CERCLA, Section 311 of the Clean Water Act, or the Oil Pollution Act;
(3) A road is needed pursuant to reserved or outstanding rights, or as provided for by statute or treaty;
(4) Road realignment is needed to prevent irreparable resource damage that arises from the design, location, use, or deterioration of a classified road and that cannot be mitigated by road maintenance. Road realignment may occur under this paragraph only if the road is deemed essential for public or private access, natural resource management, or public health and safety;
(5) Road reconstruction is needed to implement a road safety improvement project on a classified road determined to be hazardous on the basis of accident experience or accident potential on that road;
(6) The Secretary of Agriculture determines that a Federal Aid Highway project, authorized pursuant to Title 23 of the United States Code, is in the public interest or is consistent with the purposes for which the land was reserved or acquired and no other reasonable and prudent alternative exists; or
(7) A road is needed in conjunction with the continuation, extension, or renewal of a mineral lease on lands that are under lease by the Secretary of the Interior as of January 12, 2001 or for a new lease issued immediately upon expiration of an existing lease. Such road construction or reconstruction must be conducted in a manner that minimizes effects on surface resources, prevents unnecessary or unreasonable surface disturbance, and complies with all applicable lease requirements, land and resource management plan direction, regulations, and laws. Roads constructed or reconstructed pursuant to this paragraph must be obliterated when no longer needed for the purposes of the lease or upon termination or expiration of the lease, whichever is sooner.
(c) Maintenance of classified roads is permissible in inventoried roadless areas
In Colorado, we didn’t see any exceptions for dams (except when their condition is “imminent threat” of flooding)- we had quite a discussion about how this might be defined (!) and addressed in the state-specific Rule. Perhaps the mine under discussion is a patented claim so there would be access? The Forest Service has been litigated successfully for approving road building for patented mining claims (in this case, within the Frank Church Wilderness) and made the Forest Service do extra analysis (not sure what’s happening with this now.)
It seems reasonable to me to question whether the 2001 would allow roads for new hydroelectric facilities or mines. Conceivably, rare earth mines and hydropower are new uses that have increased in importance since 2001 and are also positive in terms of carbon mitigation. Perhaps a mine could be accessed by water. Does anyone have more information on this?