USDA, Allegheny National Forest
Bradford Ranger District
29 Forest Service Drive
Bradford, PA 1670122
Anthony V. Scardina, Bradford District Ranger
Leanne M. Marten, Supervisor
USDA, Allegheny National Forest
4 Farm Colony Drive
Warren, PA 16365
Via Electronic Mail
Re: Scoping Comments Rimrock Overlook to Kinzua Beach Pathway.
Dear Ms Goins-Heath,
The Allegheny Defense Project (ADP) submits these comments in response to the Forest Service’s January 11, 2010 letter (File Code 2300) requesting comments for a proposed Rimrock Overlook to Kinzua Beach Pathway in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF).
The Allegheny Defense Project (ADP) supports projects that encourage passive recreation on the ANF. Although in general ADP supports good trails on public lands, maintenance of the ones the ANF already has should take precedence over building new ones.
ADP opposes the construction of proposed Rimrock Overlook to Kinzua Beach Pathway at this time for the following reasons:
1. This project does not qualify for categorical exclusion.
While the project is described as “Replacement of the water line will be taking place this spring; therefore, the goal is to complete construction of the trail as the water line is being replaced and its related disturbance rehabilitated. This would allow the trail to be constructed, while minimizing disturbance by utilizing an existing pathway.”
However, this project is anything but a simple “trail rehabilitation” while a water line is replaced. The proposed action involves major decisions on the future of recreation development on the Allegheny National Forest and the expenditure of public funds to carry out those goals. Consequently, an EIS is required to obtain input from the public, to reveal the true nature of this recreation project, and to explain the expenditure of public funds in light of the Allegheny Forest Service’s RFA analysis and decision to close Kinzua Beach. The Forest Service must also explain where the project fits into the RFA.
The following comments will further illustrate why categorical exclusion does not apply to this project.
2. Kinzua Beach is slated for closure under the Allegheny RFA.
What is needed on the Allegheny before any further expenditures for recreation projects is a public Recreational Facilities Analysis (RFA) process that actually includes the public’s input and creates a clear picture for the public of where we are heading on recreation on the Allegheny—especially since the Allegheny Forest Service shut down the pubic process for the RFA analysis and then issued a massive list of closures of recreation facilities (including Kinzua Beach) due to a deferred maintenance backlog totally blindsiding and surprising the public. This action led to massive public protest and Senator Casey’s intervention, which finally caused the Forest Service to change its position on the closing of Kinzua Beach (see attached ADP Public Comments on Allegheny National Forest Recreational Facility Analysis and Niche designation, February 15, 2008, hereby incorporated by reference).
The scoping letter does not say how this proposed project fits in with the overall recreation plan for the ANF, if there is such a plan. Only a year ago the Forest Service was planning for unregulated oil and gas development at Rimrock; now it is the centerpiece of a major recreation facility proposal. Much more public participation needs to be done to determine the overall recreation needs of the ANF and prioritize them according to available funding.
This is especially important in light of the 6 million dollars that the Allegheny Forest Service received in Federal Stimulus Funding for its maintenance backlog—the public has absolutely no idea how the money will be spent.
The only recent announcement about Kinzua Beach from Bradford District Ranger Scardina was that it would be open on a season-by-season basis.
3. The Forest Service does not currently have any plans to reopen the Kinzua Beach Recreation Area sewage facility because it requires significant repairs or modifications. The Forest Service stated, “We are in the process of examining the uses occurring at the site. The results of this process may change the needs/design of the wastewater treatment system. We anticipate this determination may take several years.”
In Acting Forest Supervisor Lois DeMarco’s December 21, 2007 letter to Kelly Burch, Regional Director of the PA DEP Northwest Regional Office, she identifies that the Forest Service will not reopen the sewage facility at the Kinzua Beach Recreation Area.
“ The Forest Service currently has a Part I permit (PA0025542). It does not have a Part II permit for the operation of this sewage facility. This sewage facility has not been in operation since November of 2006. We [Forest Service] currently do not have any plans to reopen this sewage facility as it requires significant repairs or modifications. We are in the process of examining the uses occurring at the site. The results of this process may change the needs/design of the wastewater treatment system. We anticipate this determination may take several years.”
While the Forest Service was asking the public at the January 29, 2008, Recreation Facility Analysis and Niche designation meeting to cooperate with it in helping to determine what developed facilities “with a building” should stay open on the Allegheny, it had already made recreation decisions without informing the public.
So, at the only public meeting to get public input on the Allegheny Recreational Facility Analysis/ Niche, the Forest Service did not tell the public what decisions it had already made and tried to force the public to make quick, major decisions at one meeting without any of this data. Furthermore, regarding recreation decisions the Forest Service is saying, “We anticipate this determination may take several years.” – while it tried to rush a flawed recreation process for the Allegheny in as little as 6 months.
The above DeMarco statement further contradicts the Allegheny National Forest Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that states:
“The ANF has been involved in an extensive capital investment program over the past 12 years with major rehabilitation and expansion of most of the campgrounds and boat launches.” (FEIS 3-301)
The DeMarco letter shows that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued a Notice of Violation for Forest Service Sewage Permits and the outstanding Stormwater Discharge Permit for the Bradford Ranger District Office Construction Site. The Forest Service sewage infrastructure on the Allegheny Forest has not been fully compliant with PA Environmental Law for over a decade and none of this information about sewage planning was made available to the public as information necessary for recreation planning.
The Allegheny Defense Project (ADP) has been advocating that the Forest Service switch to composting sewage facilities for at least a decade in order to remove wastewater discharge issues in the Allegheny’s sensitive watersheds. Composting sewage treatment facilities would greatly reduce water usage at developed recreation facilities. ADP reiterated this position at the Niche meeting.
4. The Allegheny Forest Service needs to reveal to the public its comprehensive Act 537 wastewater treatment plan currently approved by the PA DEP for the forest before moving forward on any additional projects.
It is ludicrous for the scoping notice of the proposed project to state a goal of increased visitor use without explaining how wastewater treatment will be handled, how it will be funded, and how the wastewater treatment from increased capacity will impact the environment as evidenced by the following Scoping statements.
“The creation of this trail will encourage visitor use and allow visitors to recreate on multiple locations from a single staging area at the Beach or Overlook…”
“The purpose and need of this project is to increase tourism and visitor use in the local area by connecting two key developed recreations sites on the ANF that have been underutilized for at least the past 10 years.”
5. This all-new project should not be prioritized ahead of more pressing needs for deferred maintenance at existing recreation facilities. The proposed project came out of nowhere, is being fast-tracked with Forest Service preferential treatment, and has been accelerated ahead of all of the other recreation projects and deferred maintenance backlogs on the Allegheny.
The Recreation Facility Analysis for the Allegheny calls for closing or decommissioning (obliterating) 15 existing developed recreation sites, reducing the operating season or capacity at 4 sites, removing features such as toilets, trash cans, and picnic tables at 10 sites, and closing 4 water or wastewater systems. These drastic changes to existing recreation facilities are necessary (the Forest claims) due to limited funding and a backlog of deferred maintenance in 2008 of $5.4 million. Given funding limitations of that magnitude, it is not appropriate to build new facilities that will only add to long-term maintenance needs.
Furthermore, there has never been a comprehensive plan that addresses adequate maintenance staff and routine to accommodate the public. The Forest Service must explain what it has done to correct this major deficiency for recreation, and explain where the dedicated funding is in the Allegheny recreation budget.
In the past, a sufficient supply of toilet paper could not even be maintained at the Rimrock bathroom with citizens informing the Forest Service when it was not available at the facility.
In fact, that is exactly the rationale that Bradford District Ranger Scardina gave for cancelling the Willow Run ATV trail expansion—that it could not be justified in light of the existing recreation maintenance backlog on the Allegheny (only after expending massive amounts of taxpayer money for analysis of the project that never went anywhere).
By further example, the ANF Chapter of the North Country Trail has been working with the Allegheny Forest Service to move the Kellettville Reroute forward to completion for 7 years. The Reroute would move the trail off of Route 666 onto a forested ridge route. This is the last 3 miles of the NCT on the Allegheny that are not certified. Only recently did the Forest Service agree to remove the Kellettville Reroute out of the Coalbed Run project to facilitate quicker approval so the ANF NCT Chapter could construct the reroute as its National Trails Day Project for June 5, 2010.
However, in actuality, the reroute of the NCT off of Route 666 has been languishing for 19 years while the Sierra Club, working cooperatively with the Tionesta Valley Snowmobile Club, tried to get Allegheny Forest Service approval for the reroute. Nineteen years!
6. The scoping letter provides no details as to how the project would be funded or what alternative use would be made of those funds if this project does not proceed at this time. Every project involves trade-offs, and those should be analyzed, disclosed, and shared with the public.
The Allegheny Forest Service has been allocated 6 million dollars in Federal Stimulus Money for its deferred maintenance backlog but has yet to tell the public how the money is being allocated for recreation projects.
7. What exactly would be the viewscape from the 15’ x 20’ handicapped accessible observation deck at the Kinzua Beach connection and the 18’ x 25’ one story Living Interpretive Tree House at the Rimrock Arch Bridge? Will visitors stare across the bay to Longhouse Scenic Drive and Jake’s Rocks area to see the oil and gas development now taking place and continuing at an accelerated pace? Before any funds are expended the Forest Service must analyze the impacts to the viewscape and hiking terrain in light of current and proposed ogm development in the Kinzua Beach and Rimrock area that is already identified in the TEIS.
8. The Forest Service must explain in detail what it is going to do to protect this area that it is proposing to expend public money on from oil and gas development. The Forest Service cannot claim in its Scoping that the purpose of the project is to:
The creation of this trail will encourage visitor use and allow visitors to recreate on multiple locations from a single staging area at the Beach or Overlook…
“The purpose and need of this project is to increase tourism and visitor use I the local area by connecting two key developed recreations sites on the ANF that have been underutilized for at least the past 10 years.”
When the known destruction from oil and gas development in the Forest Plan clearly states,
"those seeking a more remote and less developed recreation experience could be displaced to other State or National Forests where remote, semi-primitive settings and experiences are more readily available." (FEIS, pg. 3-327)
The Forest Service must clearly explain how it is going to protect the investment/expenditure of public money on this project in an EIS.
The Allegheny National Forest Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement grossly underestimates the economic damage to recreation from Oil And Gas Development.
“Similarly, there is concern that the attractiveness of the forest for recreation visitors and the experiences that they seek could be affected by substantial oil and gas activity. If this occurs and visitors choose to avoid the ANF rather than come in the same numbers as the recent past, a variety of businesses could suffer from this diminished visitation. It is unclear what density of oil and gas development might create this effect.” (FEIS 3-419)
The Forest Service predicts that by 2060, approximately 50% of the Allegheny may be covered by oil and gas developments. This will have dramatic effects on wildlife habitat and public recreation opportunities. We will be selling our children's inheritance for a pittance of oil that has no effect whatsoever on our national economy. Quite simply, the costs of oil and gas drilling far outweigh the benefits. The Forest Service has an obligation to future generations to protect the Allegheny rather than working in tandem with the oil companies to degrade Pennsylvania's only national forest.
9. The Forest Service announced its intention to do a Recreation Study on the Allegheny Reservoir after Forest Plan approval. The Forest Service’s earlier, 2001 recreation study shows that the reason visitors use the Allegheny Reservoir is because they love the undeveloped shoreline. This public asset needs to be protected, but there is no analysis of how this area will be protected. The Recreation Study On The Allegheny Reservoir has not been made available to the public, nor is there any explanation in the scoping notice of the proposed project of how this project fits in with any recreation study on the Allegheny Reservoir.
10. What “interpretive and educational information to visitors about the rich history of the ANF and the local area” is the Forest Service planning? Those are catch phrases for interpretive displays explaining away the destruction by commercial timbering and unregulated oil and gas development. We do not need any more interpretive explanations about clearcutting and unregulated oil and gas drilling that exclude a balanced view of historic/environmental destruction to our ANF communities caused by industrial logging and unregulated oil and gas drilling. The public must have information about what the Forest Service intends to interpret for the public and have input into any decisionmaking about interpretive displays about environmental and historic information.
11. The Forest Service cannot just claim:
The creation of this trail will encourage visitor use…”
“The purpose and need of this project is to increase tourism and visitor use…”
How can the Forest Service make claims that visitor use will increase as a result of this project when the Forest Service provided virtually no information to the public on which to make substantive comments during the RFA analysis. For instance, the Forest Service has provided just one document on its website regarding campground visitation rates over the last two decades. The problem, however, is that there is no data for the Bradford Ranger District (where the majority of campgrounds are located) for several years. Additionally, there is no data for the entire national forest on campground visitation rates since 2004 when the Forest Service turned over our campgrounds to concessionaires. How can the public make informed comments when it is given incomplete data?
The Forest Service needs to restart this analysis from the beginning and provide the public with complete data so it can make informed comments. Otherwise, the Forest Service is wasting its time and our money on a process that will have undesirable results.
12. The planning for this project on the public’s land was carried out exclusively between Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways (PKP) and the Allegheny Forest Service. The ANF is public land not the private domain of PKP or any other private entities. All of the planning for this project should have been carried out in public meetings held by the Forest Service not PKP in the context of the Allegheny RFA and the Allegheny Forest’s Schedule Of Proposed Actions.
13. There is no explanation of fees to be charged for use of the proposed facilities. Please provide any fees that will be charged for use of the Kinzua Beach Area as part of the scoping analysis.
14. The public has not been provided with sufficient opportunity to study the proposal. The date of the scoping letter is only 11 days prior to the comment deadline, and was not provided to important constituent groups until less than three days before the comment deadline. The proposal is not listed in the Forest’s Schedule Of Proposed Actions. Further, individuals and groups identified by the Forest Service as “interested parties” for other projects were not notified of this project. This violates CEQ regulations in 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 1500 to 1508, CEQ PART 1501--NEPA AND AGENCY PLANNING, Section 1501.7, and Section 1506.6.
Section 1501.7 Scoping, states,
There shall be an early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action. This process shall be termed scoping. As soon as practicable after its decision to prepare an environmental impact statement and before the scoping process the lead agency shall publish a notice of intent (Sec. 1508.22) in the Federal Register except as provided in Sec. 1507.3(e).
(a) As part of the scoping process the lead agency shall:
1. Invite the participation of affected Federal, State, and local agencies, any affected Indian tribe, the proponent of the action, and other interested persons (including those who might not be in accord with the action on environmental grounds), unless there is a limited exception under Sec. 1507.3(c). An agency may give notice in accordance with Sec. 1506.6.
Section 1506.6 Scoping, states,
(a) Make diligent efforts to involve the public in preparing and implementing their NEPA procedures.
(b) Provide public notice of NEPA-related hearings, public meetings, and the availability of environmental documents so as to inform those persons and agencies who may be interested or affected.
1. In all cases the agency shall mail notice to those who have requested it on an individual action.
2. In the case of an action with effects of national concern notice shall include publication in the Federal Register and notice by mail to national organizations reasonably expected to be interested in the matter and may include listing in the 102 Monitor. An agency engaged in rulemaking may provide notice by mail to national organizations who have requested that notice regularly be provided. Agencies shall maintain a list of such organizations.
15. Stewardship Contracting
Since the Forest Service has already initiated the practice of Stewardship Contracting on the ANF the public needs to know if the Forest Service intends to fund the proposed project through funds derived through the Stewardship Contract process. Stewardship Contract projects using logging and timber sales that decrease species viability and water quality on the forest must not be used to fund projects, which, while laudable, are not necessary for the health of the forest (see attached comments on Steward Contracting, 15 January 2010, hereby incorporated by reference).
The Forest Service should not initiate recreation projects, such as the proposed Rimrock Overlook to Kinzua Beach Pathway, in the absence of a public Recreational Facilities Analysis (RFA) process that actually includes the public’s input and creates a clear picture for the public of where we are heading on recreation on the Allegheny. The Forest Service must explain to the public how the proposed project will be funded. The Forest Service must not propose recreation projects that are funded by stewardship contract funds to ‘greenwash’ unsustainable logging quotas on the Allegheny National Forest. The Forest Service must follow NEPA regulations in its scoping process and not attempt to force a project through without sufficient public notice or without notifying individuals and groups who have been identified as “interested parties” for Forest Service actions on the ANF. All of the planning for this project should have been carried out in public meetings held by the Forest Service not PKP in the context of the Allegheny RFA and the Allegheny Forest’s Schedule Of Proposed Actions. The Forest Service needs to restart this analysis from the beginning and provide the public with complete data so it can make informed comments. Otherwise, the Forest Service is wasting its time and our money on a process that will have undesirable results.