A project that includes construction of a temporary road across Mount St. Helens’ pumice plain began July 1 and is expected to continue through the fall after a court case challenging the project closed in June.
The road is part of the US Forest Service’s plan to replace an old water intake valve at the lake that helps protect communities downstream from catastrophic flooding.
In March 2021, a coalition of researchers and conservation organizations challenged the plan to build the temporary access road, saying the service had failed to conduct proper environmental assessments or adequately weigh the significance of research on the monument or the damage that the road would cause.
The U.S. Forest Service’s plan to build a road through the Spirit Lake pumice plain is set to go ahead this summer after a judge ruled against…
In late December, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan of the Western District Court in Washington ruled in favor of the Forest Service, writing that the agency had complied with requirements and properly considered the consequences of the work. . The plaintiffs appealed on January 29 and on June 13 a jury dismissed the appeal, closing the case, according to court documents.
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When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, debris blocked Spirit Lake’s historic outflow, raising the water level by 200 feet. Engineers built a tunnel in 1985 to drain the lake and prevent a catastrophic flood, but the tunnel is 35 years old and its gate needs repairs and upgrades.
The project involves repairing an unpaved logging road – mainly used for non-motorized public vehicles – and then building a new temporary access road so that construction workers can reach the lake to replace the gate. The project also includes taking samples from the debris blockage.
The four- or five-year construction project will consist of four phases. The US Army Corps of Engineers will manage the contract for the Forest Service and estimates the cost of the project will be approximately $20 million. Construction of the 3.4-mile temporary access road, intake gate replacement and other work will begin in 2023, according to the Forest Service.
As part of the first phase, the Forest Service awarded a construction contract to improve the extension of Forest Road 99, the 2-mile section from Windy Ridge Lookout to the Researchers’ parking area. The road is closed to public motorized vehicles and during the project access will be coordinated by forestry staff.
The lawsuit alleges the Forest Service is not properly weighing the significance of the research taking place at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument or the damage the road will cause.
Forest Road 99 Extension/#207 — the mostly non-motorized road usually open to the public for hiking or mountain biking — will be closed on weekdays and open on weekends through the end of the year, according to the Forest Service. The closing begins at 6 a.m. on Monday and continues until Friday noon. The Windy Ridge Interpretive Site, which is just north of the closure, remains open to visitors seven days a week.
The closure begins at the gate of the Forest Road 99 Extension at the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site at milepost 16.3 and continues to the junction of Abraham Trail #216D at milepost 17.8.
Visitors can expect to see large construction equipment and materials, culvert replacements and widening of corners, according to the Forest Service. Rock hauling will take place on Forest Route 99. The Forest Service advises visitors to exercise caution when traveling to the area.