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Unthinking development and ignored impacts

Last fall, we took advantage of a few hours of warm sunshine and sought out a dry site to walk around. We went to a favorite spot where the old highway sinks below the reservoir waters. Ever since the building of the Cabinet Gorge Dam, local people have used this access to launch boats. For many years, this was a quiet, clean, and friendly sort of place. If you ran into someone else, most likely you knew each other.

Then, in the late 80s, the USFS at the Cabinet Ranger District decided to develop it as a picnic and launch site. The above ground portions of the road were re-paved. Picnic shelters were built, an outhouse placed, and a proper boat launch added. At that time, Heronites requested that no camping be allowed, and the USFS agreed. 

Then the development creep began. Campsites were carved out of the cedar grove, and a sign on the highway directed travelers to camping. This was quietly accomplished in direct violation of the verbal pledges made to Heron people. Now, in the summer, it is a circus with some people living there for months. Large trailers with propane tanks and snarling dogs, bikers from Spokane, and out-of-state pickups fill the area. Although local people have complained to the USFS about long-term camping and under-restrained pit bulls, the Cabinet District only has one law officer and the campground is low priority. 

Two years ago, the Cabinet District requested a Resource Advisory Committee grant to add another outhouse to serve more campsites they built on the hillside. The folks camped on the hill were pooping behind trees, rather than walking a couple hundred feet. Other committee members must have felt as I did - if you can’t take care of the site, why continue to expand it - because the project was not chosen for funding.

Last fall when we took a little walk, the campground was empty of cars, dogs, camping trailers and people. Blowing wads of toilet paper, dog poop and a fire pit filled with trash indicated it had been recently inhabited. Shotgun shells littered the ground. On top of the fire pit grill sat a pair of sandals with an inch-high foam base and plastic straps. One shoe had been repaired with duct tape. Crammed under the grill was a bright red polyester blouse with raised fuzzy design, sized extra large, and a child’s blue tee shirt on top of plastic containers that had held juice and water. Under this debris was a leaking black plastic sack filled with disgusting wet stuff - perhaps diapers, food scraps - my curiosity did not extend far enough to explore further.

This small example of unthinking development and its ignored impacts reminds me of the USFS’s approval of the proposed Rock Creek Mine. The Troy Mine, touted as an analog to the proposed Rock Creek project, is experiencing above ground disturbances (sinkholes). This is an unexpected consequence of the honeycomb mine below, and one that caught the Forest Service flat-footed. The proposed Rock Creek project will create honeycomb caverns under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. The possibility of sinkholes under designated wilderness and high country lakes cannot continue to be ignored. 

Revett is operating their Troy Mine without an adequate reclamation plan in place. The mine and tailings pond (which dangerously lies inside an old creek bed) continues to expand, yet the mining company has been stalling for seven years. These are some of the same people who left Montana taxpayers cleaning up their Zortman-Landusky mess. 

You can’t invite the slobs in, particularly without a funded plan to clean up after them. 

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

Tagged as:

Heron, Cabinet Gorge Dam, Rock Creek Mine, picnic shelters, Revett, Troy Mine

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