By Martin J. Kidston
An intended improvement plan for a 10-mile stretch of Beaver Creek Road has entered the early stages of an environmental assessment review, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Transportation said Thursday.
DOT Project Design Manager Mike Langenfus said the environmental assessment review is in its infancy stage, and is being conducted by environmental consultants Robert Peccia and Associates.
With three levels of environmental documents available to the DOT, Langenfus explained why the Beaver Creek Road Project rates middle ground, and why a full-blown environmental impact study on the park, in the eyes of the DOT, is not necessary.
We dont feel this project should be elevated to the level of an environmental impact statement, and we feel the issues can still be addressed and solved, Langenfus said in a telephone interview. But if people are still adamant and go through the proper processes, it could go to that next level.
Langenfus explained the levels of documentation, and said that a categorical exclusion is the lowest, used by the DOT when a project is non-controversial. An environmental assessment review is conducted when a project, such as the one in Beaver Creek, is somewhat controversial and may affect adjacent land owners, habitat and recreation. However, an environmental assessment review doesnt carry the weight of a full-blown environmental impact statement.
An environmental impact statement is conducted when all impacts become controversial, and when formal public outcry arises and different agencies get involved, Langenfus said. It often takes years, sometimes more, to move through the process of an environmental impact statement.
Unless the DOT is swayed, an environmental assessment review will be carried forth and filed with the federal government to affirm that we (DOT) have satisfied all the environmental protection rules that govern the use of federal funds to be used for this project, Langenfus said.
Several people have expressed concern for the parks fragile wetland areas.
Langenfus said that wetland areas have not yet been outlined, and though his department anticipates encountering such areas, any that are damaged would be mitigated.
Complete replacement of damaged or destroyed wetlands was never mentioned.
Wetlands are lowland areas saturated with moisture. They often provide nesting coverage for birds, offer shade to waterways in hot summer months and help prevent sedimentation from entering water systems. Many areas along Beaver Creek are considered wetlands, and because the creek closely follows Route 234, many are concerned about the impact the DOTs project will have on wetland habitat.