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Klickitat Co. Shelves Hwy. Safety Project Because Of Owl Issues

A federally funded highway safety improvement project in western Klickitat County has been shelved because the County Public Works Department cannot meet a grant deadline for a required biological assessment of the project area.

As part of that biological assessment for the proposed BZ-Glenwood Highway corridor safety improvement project, the county would have had to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and prove project activities would not have a negative impact on northern spotted owls whose mapped range includes the planned construction corridor.

Public Works Director Gordon Kelsey, P.E., advised the County Board of Commissioners on April 9 that the county would be losing $465,000 in federal grant aid “due to the Endangered Species Act that requires the county to prove there are no owls in the area.”

In late 2012, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) put out a call for projects that could be advertised for construction by July 31 of this year, or fast tracked. The county applied for the 19.42-mile BZ Corner-Glenwood Highway corridor safety improvement project and received the federal grant. Estimated total cost of the project, according to the county’s annual construction program for 2013, was $486,000.

“Klickitat County submitted a corridor safety improvement project on the BZ-Glenwood Highway that would remove fixed objects adjacent to the roadway that a vehicle could hit if a driver ran off the road,” Kelsey said. “We proposed to remove rocks and trees adjacent to the roadway, add recessed reflective pavement markers, and place guardrail in areas with steep slopes.”

Because funding for the project is federal (save for a $10,000 county match), the county is required to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and perform a biological assessment of the project area “to determine (1) are there in fact spotted owls located in the areas — or their buffers — previously identified, and (2) if there were any spotted owls, would the county’s proposed project can an impact to their habitat,” Kelsey said.

According to Kelsey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified several locations where spotted owls had been sighted. “These locations were placed on a map and a multi-mile buffer was drawn around each potential site,” he noted. “These extremely large buffers overlapped areas of the proposed BZ-Glenwood Highway project.”

Kelsey added that preparation of a biological assessment and processing it through WSDOT “would take a minimum of six months, thus missing the grant deadline.”

The county asked WSDOT if it could use to federal aid “to make these improvements on another roadway corridor but were denied.”

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