Concerned community members review DEIS and tour the highway site.
The Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition held a forum and field trip on the U.S. Highway 95 Thorncreek Road to Moscow realignment project on Saturday, January 19.
The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) with three realignment options earlier this month. The department stated the eastern route – E-2 – as their preferred alternative.
The coalition took issue with ITD’s E-2 proposal, which would involve constructing a bridge over Eid Road and impacting remnant Palouse prairie land.
The main purpose of the realignment would be to improve the safety and travel time on the stretch of highway.
At Saturday’s forum, Al Poplawsky, a research associate with the University of Idaho’s department of plant, soil, and entomological sciences, went over the DEIS with concerned community members. Among the coalition’s main concerns are environmental and socio-economic impacts. Their preferred option is C-3, an alternative route that more closely follows the current highway and costs about the same as E-2.
According to the DEIS, E-2 is a safer option, with an estimated 3.8 fatal and injurious crashes per year, compared to C-3, which would result in 4.7.
However, Poplawsky called the safety ratings faulty because of a poor weather analysis. The weather report was conducted from January to May 2005.
“It’s not even a complete winter,” Poplawsky said. “It was also conducted in one of the mildest years on the Palouse in 25 years.”
Despite the usual severity of winter, the DEIS claims that the E-2 route is comparably safer than C-3, but Poplawsky said they cannot be compared without more weather evaluation.
“Anyone who lives up on that ridge can tell you that the weather up there is very different from down where the highway is now,” he said.
The DEIS also prefers the E-2 route because it woul displace less businesses and homes. E-2 would displace five homes, while C-3 would displace seven. C-3 also would displace eight businesses, but Poplawsky said those businesses may not be viable if the highway is moved.
E-2 is also a shorter distance than C-3 by 0.09 miles – a considerably small difference, Poplawsky said.
The environmental issue is the coalition’s main concern.
“It’s clear that, environmentally, C-3 is far superior to E-2,” Poplawsky said.
Tim Hatten, a member of the Palouse Prairie Foundation’s board of directors, gave a presentation on the effect E-2 would have on Paradise Ridge and the Palouse prairie.
One study in the DEIS showed weed infestation 0.6 miles around the proposed routes. In the E-2 option, the weed infestation parameter invades Paradise Ridge.
“There could be weed infestation right up to the top of the ridge,” Hatten said. “No mitigation measures would be able to stop it in the short term.”
Hatten also discussed the effect on wildlife that the E-2 route would have, which includes the habitat of the northern alligator lizard, pygmy nuthatch, and long-eared myotis bat.
“All the environmental agencies are against this E-2 route, flat out,” Hatten said. “There’s a lot of reasons why they should be. It would have a lot more environmental and biological impacts.”
Private land owners who live on the ridge led community members on a field trip where they could see firsthand where E-2 would go.
“The actual take on our ground is something like 2.5 acres and it’s all trees,” said Kas Dumroese, who owns about six acres of remnant prairie.
Dumroese has lived on the ridge for almost 20 years. He bought the land from his neighbor, Robert Clyde. Clyde’s native prairie restoration is about 200 yards from where the E-2 road would go. However, Clyde is in favor of the E-2 route.
“If it goes in, C-3 goes right through the center of my farm and takes out my best farm land,” Clyde said. “When they came out with those 11 routes, 10 of them went right through my land. They were all over like spider webs.”
Although Clyde and Dumroese differ on where they want the road to go, they agree it’s time to build.
It’s been ten years, six deaths, 300 wrecks, so I think it’s time we build a highway somewhere,” Clyde said.
ITD is holding a public hearing between 2:30 and 8 pm on Wednesday in the Best Western Plus University Inn. Open-microphone sessions will occur at 3 pm and 5:30 pm.
The public comment period ends February 23, which the coalition hopes to extend.
“If ITD took eight years to come up with a DEIS, I think the public deserves another 30 to 90 days to dissect this thing and come up with a logical decision,” said Brett Haverstick, member of the coalition.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE? U.S. Highway 95 re-route from Thorncreek Road to Moscow