What: Planning for “Polychrome Area Improvements”
When: Comments due Friday, October 29, 2021
As most of our members know by now, the National Park Service has announced that the Denali Park Road will be closed to visitor traffic at the East Fork bridge (mile 43) for the entire 2022 season because of the rapid movement of the landslide at Pretty Rocks.
At a public meeting on October 14, NPS Deputy Superintendent Brooke Merrell indicated that NPS has settled on a plan to construct a bridge over the landslide, but that even an accelerated construction timeline will mean the road is likely to remain closed at East Fork through most or all of the 2023 season. Because the road closure is perceived as a crisis for Denali and Alaskan tourism, NPS and its partner – the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – are moving rapidly to complete the bridge design and related environmental compliance.
NPS is preparing an Environmental Assessment for these actions under the title “Polychrome Area Improvements,” to be released for public review in January with a strict 30-day comment period. Currently NPS plans for the EA to address both the building of a bridge (Phase 1) and a few projects at other Polychrome locations, notably Bear Cave (Phase 2). View NPS’ current ideas on their Polychrome Plan page.
DCC ‘s comments will make the following suggestions:
- Limit the content of the EA in January to the bridge project alone – Since there is no urgency to Phase 2 and it is less well defined, it should be dropped from the January EA. Instead, NPS should evaluate the Bear Cave slump project as part of a later programmatic EA that looks at all road projects at least between East Fork and Toklat, so that NPS can better understand the cumulative impacts of road construction and avoid unnecessary projects.
- Reveal more details about how the decision to build a bridge was made – NPS should make available documents that it used to decide on the Pretty Rocks and Bear Cave projects, including the NPS Value Analysis, Expert Panel deliberations and geologic hazards study. While DCC is inclined to support the bridge over other alternatives that NPS considered, the public should be able to see the documents that supported the NPS decision, particularly since the other alternatives will not be analyzed in the EA.
- Consider a wide range of environmental impacts – In the environmental analysis, NPS needs to look at impacts to wilderness, soundscape, road character, visitor experience, and wildlife, particularly to Dall sheep and Golden Eagles that use habitat around the project area. DCC is interested not only in how the project area itself will be impacted, but also the impacts of construction traffic and noise, worker housing, material staging sites, and other logistical issues outside the immediate area around Pretty Rocks, including how construction impacts from the new Ghiglione Bridge will be handled in 2022. We want to see a robust analysis of the seismic stability of this structure. Finally, given the acceleration of warming that has occurred under and near the road corridor over the past few years, we think the public deserves to know if this project is truly a long-term fix.
Submit your own comments to the NPS Planning Website link below
Due date: Friday, October 29, 2021
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