Looking at all alternatives and mitigation measures
By Mark Reaman
Crested Butte citizens and members of the Crested Butte Town Council expressed their concern about a Forest Service proposal to bring hundreds of logging trucks through town from a timber sale that will take place in the Ohio Pass/Splains Gulch area in a few years.
Gunnison Forest District ranger Matt McCombs spent an hour on Tuesday, July 2 explaining the initial proposal and answering questions from the elected officials and members of the public.
McCombs said he would look at and consider every alternative to using a haul route that included Whiterock Avenue in a residential neighborhood of Crested Butte. One alternative brought up several times was to upgrade the Ohio Pass or Kebler Pass Roads to more easily accommodate commercial logging trucks.
But McCombs was up front that the costs involved in such road improvements might be prohibitive and mitigation measures to lessen impacts to town residents might be more likely than major road upgrades.
“When I saw the proposal and the engineering staff said the preferred haul route was down Kebler to CB, over Whiterock through town to Highway 135 to Highway 50 to Montrose, my antenna went up and I immediately reached out to the town,” McCombs said. “So I am here to get feedback and try to minimize the impacts of a Forest Service action taking place adjacent to town.”
This timber sale is part of the Spruce Beetle Epidemic Aspen Decline Management Response (SBEADMR) initiative and is designed to increase forest resiliency. It should help thwart beetle kill infestations and potential forest fires. It would cut timber from about 2,000 acres of land near Splains Gulch.
No more than 25 percent of the trees in the parcel would be cut but that would likely result in about 700 logging trucks heading to the lumber mill in Montrose.
While saying no hard numbers had been determined, McCombs estimated on Tuesday that three to five logging trucks per day would come through town during the logging season. Given the review process, the sale is not expected to start until the summer of 2022 and take at least two summers. It is expected that the major road on the Little Blue Canyon on Highway 50 will be completed by that time.
Mayor Jim Schmidt asked about using pheromones to repel beetles making the logging unnecessary. McCombs said while that can work at places such as campgrounds and trailheads, pheromones are too expensive to be used in such broad areas.
Schmidt noted that much of the timber sale would take place in the town’s watershed. McCombs said the timber company would be required to obtain a permit from the town to do the work in the watershed.
McCombs also responded to a question from Schmidt about the conflict with recreationists, especially near Lily Lake, and admitted logging and recreation were not easily compatible. While that wouldn’t be much of a problem in the winter when logging operations would cease, McCombs said summer would be a different story. He said the Forest Service could require no logging on weekends or holidays and could prohibit trucks during particular times of the day when tourist traffic was peaking so as “to reduce impacts to recreationalists. But there will certainly be a temporary nuisance with things like noise and traffic. Frankly, our experience is that people avoid such areas during these operations.”
When pressed on why the trucks could not go down the Ohio Creek Valley or west over Kebler Pass Road to get to Montrose, McCombs cited safety and cost. The current Ohio Pass and Kebler Pass roads are too narrow and have too many switchbacks and poor sight lines, according to Forest Service engineers.
McCombs said a rough estimate to improve the roads to allow commercial hauling would be about $1.2 million to $1.5 million. “But we will certainly have the conversation with the Forest Service and county commissioners to see if that is viable. If it is not viable, then we want every mitigation measure in place to address the concerns of the route.”
McCombs also noted that he was told about 500 logging trucks from a timber sale in Floresta had used the Crested Butte haul route with no major issues in 2014 and 2015.
Councilman Paul Merck asked that costs be considered, not only for potential road upgrades but also for the cost and impact to the town. Councilman Chris Haver said the costs of road upgrades might not be so daunting when considered in the long-term with future timber sales taking place after this one.
The concerns expressed by the public included safety and lifestyle. “Logging trucks on Whiterock are not good for town in any way, shape or form,” commented citizen Denis Hall. “There are a lot of kids who bike over there.”
“The $1.2 million to $1.5 million doesn’t really seem like a lot of money,” said Whiterock Avenue resident Ann Johnston. ”If the county wants to help fix up Ohio Pass that number could be even lower.”
“We haven’t had that conversation but we are all about partnering,” assured McCombs. “We’ll have those conversations.”
Whiterock resident Alan Peterson emphasized the area is heavily used by young children. It is a route he said that kids use to take to school, the skate park and just to play. “There is a constant flow of young children in that area at all times of the day,” he said. “There are zero good times to mitigate truck impacts. I feel strongly about this issue.”
High County Conservation Advocate public lands director Matt Reed wanted to make sure the public had ample opportunity to give feedback on the plan. McCombs said that was welcome. “Anyone can reach out to me and share concerns and questions,” McCombs said. He said a formal comment period will likely take place next January and asked Reed to remind him to help get the word out at that time.
“We understand the concerns are real and people will feel them,” McCombs said. “I’m happy to talk to anyone, anytime about it. Understand too that we work under certain constraints of the U.S. Forest Service.”
McCombs promised “more public engagement of the sale given its location near Crested Butte.”
The Town Council planned to allow McCombs to gather more information and to talk to the county about various options. The council expects to invite McCombs back for another public work session sometime this fall.