Al Poplawski, Moscow
The Moscow-Pullman Daily News 1/22/13
The Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition appreciates the opportunity to respond to several letters to the editor during the last week that made erroneous statements regarding PRDC and the Idaho Transportation Department’s U.S. Highway 95 re-alignment project. Hopefully we can clear up many of these misunderstandings.
In the following discussion we have done our best to provide a factual summary of the draft environmental impact statement.
We share Wayne Olson’s concern for safety. However, we don’t accept responsibility for accidents on the highway. PRDC forced ITD to follow the law that required that they create an EIS. The responsibility is with the laws of our land. We only encouraged following the law. The EIS must consider all factors, propose a wide range of alternatives and select the alternative that best satisfies the “purpose and need” of the project – while observing all laws and regulations. The purpose for this project requires improvement of safety, efficiency and handling of traffic volume. It may take a little longer, but if this process is done well we should get a safe highway. A DEIS usually takes an agency a year or two to perform. It is not our responsibility that ITD took so many years to perform this analysis.
PRDC supports a safe, efficient route for re-alignment of Highway 95, and the DEIS states that all three proposed alternatives (E2, C3 and W4) meet this purpose. All three climb up Reisenauer Hill; E2 (the ITD preferred alternative) then continues near that elevation for several miles before descending to Moscow, whereas the central route (C3) and western route (W4) drop down immediately. The DEIS safety analysis identifies E2 as a little safer than the other alternatives. However, this analysis doesn’t consider weather because the DEIS weather study concluded there was no weather difference between alternatives. Fifty-seven percent of the accidents on this stretch of highway occur during inclement weather, thus weather is an important safety factor. Residents of Paradise Ridge insist that weather is much more severe up there than down along the current highway and this make sense. The DEIS weather study spanned only January 2005 to May 2005 – not even one complete winter, and the 2005 winter was quite atypical, characterized as a drought year. Snow could not be analyzed because there was none. Wind was not considered either. Thus the weather study is totally inadequate, and concomitantly the safety study and its conclusions are seriously flawed.
In terms of socioeconomic factors, C3 is clearly superior to E2 with respect to less new right-of-way required, only half as much prime farmland paved over, much less noise effects, less than half of the visual impact, more compatibility with Moscow land use goals and proposed ring road, and best emergency response times to local residents. Although C3 does displace several more businesses than does E2, no economic study was provided to determine the likelihood of relocation of these businesses, or the continued viability of these businesses at their present locations in the absence of Highway 95 traffic (E2 and W4 alternatives). E2 is negligibly shorter than C3 (0.09 miles).
E2 has greater environmental impacts than C3: it has twice the wetland acres affected, 4.4 acres (as opposed to none) of moderate ungulate habitat affected, more new impervious surface created, four acres (as opposed to none) of sensitive species habitat destroyed, and at least twice the impact on native Palouse prairie. Thus environmentally, C3 is clearly superior to E2.
Although the safety analysis cannot be used to conclude any particular alternative as safer than another, C3 has several more favorable socioeconomic factors than E2, and clearly will do far less environmental damage than E2. Thus we support C3 over E2.
We encourage the community to become informed, attend the ITD public meeting (http://us95thorncreek.com/deis-2/deis-document/), and come together over the alternative that will be best for our region in terms of all of the factors which we can reliably assess.
(Al Poplawsky is treasurer of PRDC, chair of the Palouse Group of the Sierra Club, and holds advanced degrees in botany and plant pathology.)