Road works endanger the Mount St. Helens research site

A lawsuit was recently brought against the US Forest Service to halt the construction of a road through the explosion zone of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

The US Forest Service is under attack in a lawsuit filed by a handful of scientists and conservationists to halt a “plan to build a road through the explosion zone of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.” Plaintiffs filed their complaints in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this week. They claim the “US Forest Service violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.”

Building cone; Image courtesy of MabelAmber via Pixabay,

According to the US Forest Service, plans are “to build the road through the pumice plains of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument so that equipment to replace the original inlet gate at the Spirit Lake Tunnel and geotechnical drilling can be carried out to determine if the conditions are safe enough for possible future alternative drainage systems to control the water level in Spirit Lake. “The road would make it easier for the agency to“ bring in the necessary equipment ”.

Plaintiffs include Cascade Forest Conservancy, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Washington Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, Dr. John Bishop, Dr. James E. Gawel and Susan Saul. “They will be represented by Susan Jane Brown. Brown is an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. Commenting on the case, Brown said that her clients” “recognize that there is a long-term need for public health and safety to avoid the outflow of Spirit.” Lake, but that forest service should take a broader approach. “She added:

“It is pretty amazing to researchers that they are so upset that they are ready to file a lawsuit, and I think that shows the gravity and importance of this project.”

However, why are the plaintiffs concerned about road construction? What’s the worst that could happen? For starters, the researchers are concerned that “if the forest service builds a road across the pumice plains, it could have devastating consequences for decades-old research sites, some of which have existed since the 1980 volcano eruption.”

Brown said, “The Mount St. Helens environment is unique and still geologically active … it’s a place where scientists can see how the soil forms and how living organisms return after a volcanic eruption.” She further noted that plaintiffs are concerned that a “road through the pumice plains will alter hydrology, destroy native vegetation, cause unnatural noise disturbance, kill living organisms, increase dust, spread invasive species, cause erosion and sedimentation of waterways.” will increase “. In addition, the project could cause irreparable damage to the “popular Truman Trail in Mount St. Helens National Monument”.

The US Forest Service has been looking for better and more efficient methods of monitoring the water level at Spirit Lake for years. When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, the material formed a natural dam “that blocked the outlet of Spirit Lake, where it had previously flowed into the North Fork Toutle River.” The forest service fears that if the dam breaks, “the lake could release more than 314,000 acres of water and 2.4 billion cubic meters of sediment downstream”.

In 1982 the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service set up a temporary pumping station to stabilize the lake level. This pumping station included a 1.6 mile long tunnel that diverts water from Spirit Lake into South Fork Coldwater Creek. Earlier this month, the Forest Service announced plans to advance a “project to replace the Spirit Lake tunnel inlet grille to protect communities downstream of the lake.”

Commenting on the matter, Brown said that plaintiffs want to find a solution to the problem, but noted that “Forest Service did not make many, if any, changes to the project after raising concerns about the way they did.” By filing the lawsuit, plaintiffs hope to persuade the forest service to “take the time to issue an environmental impact statement and take a broader approach to the project”.


Lawsuit: The Mount St. Helens road project could damage research sites

Project to replace the inlet gate of the Spirit Lake tunnel and geotechnical drilling project

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