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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow FOREST ROAD WORK ON HOLD


NO FIX IN SIGHT: Gayle Lee of the La Grande Ranger District points out erosion along Forest Service Road 67, the route to Eagle Creek. Several roads have deteriorated but few repairs are planned this year. ().
NO FIX IN SIGHT: Gayle Lee of the La Grande Ranger District points out erosion along Forest Service Road 67, the route to Eagle Creek. Several roads have deteriorated but few repairs are planned this year. ().

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

When you ride up the Forest Service road toward Eagle Creek, your teeth chatter but not from the cold.

The road is so rough, so wash-boarded, that it's hard to talk without biting your tongue.

Road 67, a few miles from Catherine Creek State Park, is only one of several forest roads in dire need of repair this year. Many more need grading, but they all may be neglected, because of the high cost of fighting fires.

The Forest Service has withheld about $300,000 from the La Grande Ranger District, so far, to help pay the nearly $1.5 billion to fight wildland fires. Ranger districts across the nation are similarly affected.

Road 67 is not only wash-boarded, part of it washed away last spring, making it impossible for two vehicles to pass along a portion where a stream from Big Creek broke through a low bank.

District Ranger Kurt Wiedenmann said many roads will not be graded this year, causing rough travel for hunters, campers and hikers driving to a trailhead.

At least two other roads, No. 43 through Ladd Canyon, and No. 6220 to Moss Springs, are at danger levels — badly in need of grading.

"It's getting dangerous," Wiedenmann said. "They're so badly wash-boarded that you need to go really slow."

The money that would have gone to road maintenance and numerous other forest projects was held up in July, when Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth ordered that uncommitted funds be deferred to help pay the year's wildland firefighting costs.

If additional funds are not withheld, the most degraded roads have the highest priority for repair and could be fixed later this year.

If funds are available, "we'll start in a couple of weeks and keep going as the money allows. We'll use our own staff," Wiedenmann said.

Even those seriously degraded roads may have to go through another winter, however, because another cut in money may come soon. Forest Chief Bosworth is expected to announce further deferrals this week.

Bobbe Bilyeu, acting administrative officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said Thursday that she has received "preliminary" information that another cut of as much as $275 million nationally is in the works.

Bilyeu said that she does not know how much the Wallowa-Whitman will have to give up.

La Grande's Wiedenmann said he had hoped reconstruction of the popular North Fork Catherine Creek campground would begin this year.

"We had the money allocated, but the contract was not let before the deferral came," he said.

Camp improvements, such as picnic tables and toilets, are old and badly in need of replacement. Some of the camp areas are too close to the creek and need to be moved away to allow fish recovery, he said.

The total cost of restoring the campground and redoing the trailhead was budgeted at $120,000.

The district has not been forced to reduce staff and no personnel reductions are expected, Bilyeu said.

"We've kept our crews working," Wiedenmann said. "Salaries and basic supplies have not been affected."

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