Crooked River Valley Rehabilitation project will restore and improve 2.0 miles of Crooked River, known as the Meanders, approximately 5 miles west of Elk City, Idaho. The tight meanders of Crooked River and floodplain are a result of past mining waste (also referred to as mine tailings). Mine tailings are concentrated in the valley bottom and have altered the physical condition of the stream system, restricting the natural migration pattern of the stream and other changes in channel size, form, and function. The condition currently impairs the ability of riparian vegetation to establish and function as a natural buffer. These alterations resulted in a significant reduction of productive aquatic habitat for listed fish species. Within the project area there are Endangered Species Act-listed Snake River Basin steelhead and Columbia River bull trout; and the Forest Service sensitive species listed spring/summer Chinook salmon.
The decision will restore channel and floodplain functions, restore instream fish habitat complexity, and improve water quality in the Crooked River valley. This will be accomplished by the following actions: construct a 6,000 foot temporary bypass channel and temporary access road/levee (which will be removed and decommissioned following construction of the new channel); re-grade approximately 115 acres of floodplain by moving dredge tailings; reconstruct approximately 7,400 feet of stream channel; install woody bank structures; construct more than 2,700 feet of side channels; create conditions for 64 acres of wetlands; replant the valley bottom with native and approved non-native, plant species; and monitor and evaluate project actions. Project implementation will occur over six years, starting in 2015.
The project will move the Lower Crooked River watershed towards the Forest Plan Fishery/Water quality objectives identified in the Nez Perce Forest Plan. Proposed activities will provide improvement to fish habitat conditions by improving pool quality, increasing large woody debris recruitment, and increasing spawning habitat and higher-quality rearing habitat. Although there will be short term impacts to fish and water quality, however, the project has numerous specific design and mitigation measures that will be applied to reduce these and other impacts.
The interaction between the stream channel and floodplain will be restored by re-grading the floodplain to allow flooding to occurring more frequently at lower stream flows. This will create a sustainable floodplain that is capable of supporting aquatic habitat and desired vegetation communities. The project will have a short- and long-term effect on wetlands. The existing wetlands will be impacting during construction, but the result will be an overall net increase of 12 acres of wetlands. Wetlands are expected to increase in both area and diversity with the proposed action. The Forest will apply for a Joint 404 Permits and Stream Alteration Permit, from the Idaho Department of Water Resources and USACE.
Design and mitigation measures, including compliance monitoring for turbidity, will be implemented to minimize turbidity and prevent the Idaho State water quality standard for turbidity from being exceeded. Water temperature in Crooked River currently exceeds Idaho State water quality standards. The activities to restore channel and floodplain functions and re-establish vegetation will help move toward meeting requirements in the South Fork Clearwater River Total Maximum Daily Load in Crooked River.
The Forest Service has a publication named “ Anatomy of a Mine from Prospect to Production”, which summarizes legislation affecting mining, defines mining terms, and discusses basics of mineral exploration, development, and operations in the West. The publication is a little dated but is a good place to start for any miner and is available online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/geology/anatomy_mine.pdf. Within the Crooked River Valley Rehabilitation project it is very apparent that the first four steps of the mining process has occurred and with the collaborative effort of several agencies the Forest Service is now moving forward with the reclamation step of the mining process.
During reclamation there will be an area closure in place with short term restrictions for up to 6 years. Claimants should contact the Forest Service concerning any coordination or questions concerning access to their claims during the closure order. Minerals within the placer mining claim material will only be moved within a quarter of a section from its current position and will not be leaving the claim and therefore there are no long term effects to the minerals or to the rights to the minerals on these claims. There will be no effect to the lode mining claim materials within the boundaries of the CRVR project. The dredge piles within the Crooked River Valley Rehabilitation project have historic significance and consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office has been completed. After reclamation, any new disturbance of the reclaimed area will need to be bonded at a level that is sufficient to bring the disturbed area back to the standard established during the project.
Extensive and historic mine tailings will be impacted as a result of the project. The tailings resulted from extensive dredging operations conducted by the H&H Mining Company which operated a floating dredge along the lower Crooked River from 1938-1942. While the project will have an adverse effect to the historic tailings, the National Historic Preservation Act allows for this impact if the effect is mitigated. Accordingly, the Forest Service has crafted a number of mitigation measures which the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office has approved as adequate. The measures include: thoroughly photographing, documenting and mapping the historic dredge piles that are proposed for removal; retain a representative sample of dredge piles for public interpretation; construct a three-panel interpretive sign along the river corridor related to the history of dredge mining on the Crooked River to provide education as to the greater historical context associated with the dredge mining activity; thoroughly document the historic Gnome village located upstream from the project area as a form of off-site mitigation meant to further preserve Crooked River mining history; and performing a social business history related to the economic contribution historic dredge mining operations made to the local central Idaho economy.
The project will have beneficial short-term effects for employment and long-term recreation-based economic benefits. In the 2012, IDFG Director’s Report to the Commission, it was estimated that fishing in Idaho generates about $500 million in statewide retail sales. Of that, about $50 million is spent per year in retail sales for salmon and steelhead fishing in the Clearwater River basin and lower Salmon River. A 2005 study by Don Reading, found that restored salmon and steelhead fisheries could provide an additional $23 million annual to the communities of Grangeville and Elk City. The cost of the project is estimated at $2.5 million and would potentially be funded through the BPA Fish and Wildlife Program.
Public access within the project area will be limited over the next 6 years. A temporary haul road will be built within the project area for construction activities. The Crooked River Road (Road 233) will remain open to the public during implementation. Developed and dispersed campsites would be maintained after implementation. Long term, there will be an improvement in recreational fishing opportunities through improved fish habitat.
A notice of document availability has been sent to those who submitted specific, written comments in response to project scoping, and/or provided comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Responses to the comments are included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Forest Service administrative review process (36 CFR 218, subpart A and B) will be followed for the decision, and is subject to objection. Objections must be submitted to the Objection Reviewing Officer at the Forest Service, Northern Regional Office in Missoula, Montana. See project website listed above for specific requirements and additional project details.
Additional information can be obtained from: Jennie Fischer, Project Team Leader, phone (208) 983-4048, Nez Perce-Clearwater Forests office in Grangeville, Idaho.