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By SCOTT BOWLEN
Daily News Staff Writer
The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday released the formal Environmental Assessment for the agency’s Tongass Sustainable Cabin Management project, which proposes removing nine of the 152 recreational cabins within the Tongass National Forest because of maintenence and replacement costs, poor condition and low usage.
Two other Tongass cabins would be replaced by three-sided shelters, according to the EA. Another cabin would be converted into a shelter.
"The cabins in this proposal receive little use, most are difficult to access, and most have high maintenance needs or are beyond repair," states the Environmental Assessment. "When compared to the use-levels, accessibility, and conditions of all cabins and shelters across the Tongass National Forest, these cabins appear to be less desirable than most other cabins on the Forest.
Four of the cabins potentially affected by the EA are within the Ketchikan-Misty Fiords Ranger District.
The proposed action would remove the Beaver Camp and Red Alders cabins on Revillagigedo Island, and the Checats Lake cabin on the mainland within Misty Fiords National Monument. The Big Goat Lake cabin within Misty Fiords would be replaced by a three-sided shelter.
Over on Prince of Wales Island, the McGilvery Creek cabin in the Thorne Bay Ranger District would be removed, according to the EA’s proposed action.
The Beaver Camp, Big Goat, Checats Lake and McGilvery Creek cabins are "pan abode" style structures that were built between 1964 and 1965, according to the Forest Service. The Red Alders cabin — which was crushed by a falling tree in 2012, was a pan abode cabin built in 1962.
The 80-page Environmental Assessment details the analysis used to develop the proposed alternatives, and why the Forest Service wants to change its recreational cabin program in the Tongass.
A large part of the motivation is budget. According to the EA, the Tongass’ developed recreational facilities budget has declined from $2.3 million in 2008 to $1.35 million in fiscal 2013.
"With shrinking budgets and cabin fees that cover less than 50 percent of the average cabin operation and maintenance costs, the Tongass National Forest is unable to cover costs to operate and adequately maintain all of its cabins," states the EA.
The Forest Service estimates that replacing the nine cabins proposed for removal would cost about $1.8 million because of the cabins’ remote locations, construction methods, and necessary components such as decks, woodsheds and new toilets or outhouses.
The proposed action would help the agency meet its sustainable cabin program goals. Money saved by not maintaining and operating cabins that get "very low use" can go toward higher-use cabins, according to the EA.
The Environmental Assessment isn’t the final step in the process.
The Forest Service expects to start a 30-day public comment period regarding the EA in early December. Written comments should be addressed to: Michelle Putz, Project Team Leader, 204 Siginaka Way, Sitka, AK 99835; or via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once the public comment period has concluded, Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole will publish a draft decision. The draft decision will be followed by a 45-day "objection period," an objection review?(if any are received) and the final decision, according to the Forest Service.
The full Environmental Assessment for the Tongass National Forest Sustainable Cabin Management project, and related materials, are available online at: http://go.usa.gov/WQEk.