Basalt, Frying Pan Road could see up to 933 logging truck trips from forest health project | AspenTimes.com

Basalt, Frying Pan Road could see up to 933 logging truck trips from forest health project

A forest health project proposed in the Upper Fryingpan Valley has got residents and some Basalt officials concerned about the logging truck traffic on usually placid Frying Pan Road.

A forest health project proposed in the Upper Fryingpan Valley has got residents and some Basalt officials concerned about the logging truck traffic on usually placid Frying Pan Road.

The White River National Forest’s plan for a timber sale and vegetation management project in the Upper Fryingpan Valley is drawing increasing concerns over the amount of logging-truck traffic it will generate on various routes, including Frying Pan Road.

The U.S. Forest Service wants to undertake clearcuts and selective harvesting of trees on about 1,964 acres. Much of the work would be along Burnt Mountain Road, south of the Harry Gates Hut. The southernmost pockets of work would be near Diemer and Seller lakes, north of the Fryingpan Valley floor.

Most of the timber would be hauled out of the area by logging trucks using 20 miles of Eagle-Thomasville Road and exiting in the town of Eagle.

However, the work on 233 acres around Diemer and Seller lakes would require the trucks to use Frying Pan Road and travel through Basalt, said Brett Crary, project leader. The preliminary estimate by the Forest Service is that work would require between 700 and 933 loads out of the area.

Residents, officials alarmed

The prospect of that many logging trucks coming down the narrow, curvy road in the stunningly beautiful valley has alarmed some observers.

“I can hardly believe the Forest Service thinks it’s safe to be sending almost 1,000 18-wheeler loads up and down the Frying Pan loaded with logs,” wrote Bruce Gabow, a resident of the Fryingpan Valley for more than 40 years and an avid runner and cyclist who uses the road. Gabow was one of more than a dozen people who have submitted comments to the Forest Service on the project. Comments are due Dec. 6.

“This is a narrow, rural road with no shoulder and tons of bicyclists, RVs and trucks trailering boats all summer long,” Gabow continued. “Cars have to cross the double-yellow line to get around bicycles with many blind curves. If that isn’t a formula for a tragic accident with an 18-wheeler, then someone really isn’t paying attention.”

Gabow asked the agency to reassess the plan for hauling out the timber.

Crary said it is unknown at this time how long of a period the trucks would be using Frying Pan Road. Contracts for timber sales are typically for four years, but that length could be altered, he said.

Basalt council concerned

Aspen Skiing Co. executive and Basalt Town Councilman Auden Schendler submitted comments on his own behalf.

He said he isn’t inherently opposed to logging, but questioned if the harm caused by the short-term project would outweigh the benefits.

“My question: For a short-term economic boost, does it make sense to damage a small-town economy for the summer?” Schendler asked. “Have you done the cost-benefit analysis here? Right now, this seems like a bad idea. But I’d be happy to be convinced otherwise.”

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt attended an open house hosted by the Forest Service on Monday night. She said she has concerns about the traffic on Frying Pan Road and Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main street, and how that might discourage cyclists, anglers and sightseers from visiting the area.

In addition, as many as 1,000 logging trucks rolling through town would also have a noticeable impact on the commercial core. The town will likely submit comments to the federal agency prior to the deadline, she said.

A homeowner in Meredith, an unincorporated community in the valley, also expressed concerns. Fred Smith said the Forest Service must analyze the damage the truck traffic will have on the roadways as well as the safety risk to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers.

He said he doesn’t object to the vegetation management project itself. The Forest Service says the project is needed because so many trees in the Upper Fryingpan Valley are in the same age class. Thinning out pockets of the forest will improve overall health, remove fuels for fires and improve wildlife habitat.

Feds will weigh concerns

Crary said the Forest Service is early in the process of assessing the project. Public comments will be thoroughly analyzed by the team working on the project. He said it is likely that engineers will work with Pitkin County, which also has expressed concerns about the potential traffic on Frying Pan Road.

Timing restrictions on logging trucks are likely, he said. For example, trucks could be prohibited on weekends, federal holidays and days leading up to hunting seasons.

After the public comments are analyzed, specialists for the Forest Service will write reports that will be compiled, most likely into a draft environmental assessment, a formal type of federal review. The environmental assessment will likely propose alternatives that address concerns.

The draft environmental assessment will probably be released next summer at the earliest, Crary said, so no truck traffic will be generated by the project in 2017.

The amount of traffic anticipated on Eagle-Thomasville Road is significantly higher than on the Frying Pan Road. The Forest Service anticipates 4,064 to 5,420 trips will be generated between Crooked Creek Pass and Highway 6 in Eagle.

For details on the project and to find a link for submitting comments, go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50171.

scondon@aspentimes.com