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May 12, 2014

A slide area at Mt. Index Riversites being cleaned up. Photo courtesy Arthur Testov Mt. Index Riversites page.

Snohomish County PUD resolution agreement for new bridge at Mt. Index Riversites. CLICK TO ENLARGE

This story was originally published May 11, 2014 n the front page as a Chronicle feature story

(INDEX, WA) -- There are thirty-six words on a May 6 document that many, if not all the people in the tiny Mt. Index Riversites Community may have been overjoyed to hear.

Those words are, "Consideration of a Resolution Authorizing a Cost Sharing Agreement between Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County and the Mt. Index River Sites (MIR) Community Club, Inc., Relating to Installation of a Bridge and Access Rights."

The above words on that Snohomish County PUD "policy decision document" explains the agreement between the PUD and the MIR Community Club on a process to work together and split the cost of building a new bridge that will end the isolation of some property owners on that South Fork of the Skykomish River.

Those owners have been - somewhat literally speaking - stuck between a rock and hard place due to landsides that occurred this past December and January after weeks of pounding rain loosened the soil which in turn brought down tons of mud, rocks, gravel, trees, logs and shrubs and blocked a portion of the community access road.

That is a private road which residents need to get into and out of their community.

Clean up efforts got underway shortly after the slides but a snag called money then developed. Local, state and federal governments were unable to help with financing the cleanup because the Mt. Index River Road is a private road that is owned and maintained by the community.

Thus many in the community were unable to make it to work or to the store, and emergency vehicles were unable to reach them. A perilous footpath was their only means of reaching the outside world.

Eventually homeowners started a go fund me page to raise money for the community to fix the road.

Here, according to that May 6 document is where the new bridge comes in. As part of its resource planning process, the PUD has identified small, low impact hydroelectric projects as one of the most economical renewable resources available to meet its future electric supply needs.

Read more on that here as it relates to the Index community.

The PUD has been engaged in an extensive process to evaluate the feasibility of developing a hydroelectric and fish passage improvement project in the vicinity of Sunset Falls, within the Mount Index Riversites, a community of small lots developed and sold by a husband and wife beginning in the 1950’s and later covered by the Mount Index Assessor’s Plats into the community now called Mount Index Riversites.

The PUD has filed a preliminary permit and application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) associated with the proposed project and the FERC has required the PUD to "complete approximately sixteen technical studies to develop the necessary data to inform the licensing process for the potential project."

The studies are due to be completed in 2015. However the chink in the chain is that road access to a large portion of Mount Index Riversites has been blocked since December 2013 by that series of landslides, and repair or reconstruction of the portion of the road affected by the landslides appears "not to be feasible or cost-effective," according to the policy decision document.

From the PUD document:
"The Mt. Index River Sites Community Club, Inc., (“MIRCC”) holds title to much of the roadway system and certain “community” and other properties and lots within the Mount Index Riversites pursuant to deeds from the original owner, and is responsible for operation and maintenance of the roads within Mount Index Riversites. The MIRCC has a keen and urgent interest in restoring access to the many lots that have been made inaccessible by the landslides.

The MIRCC has evaluated potential options for restoring access to the areas of Mount Index Riversites that are currently inaccessible by road, and is proposing to install a steel bridge in the location of a former bridge across the South Fork of the Skykomish River’s Canyon Falls, including any work necessary to construct bridge approaches and roadway connections (the “Bridge Project”), and also to obtain easements sufficient to connect that bridge route to SR 2. "

The PUD has been using a series of temporary access permits to carry out its studies for the project but it admits it has an immediate need to access the areas of Mount Index Riversites that are currently inaccessible by road in order to, "carry out and complete the studies required for the FERC process," and so the PUD needs permanent access rights over the Mount Index Riversites roadway system, not only to carry out the current set of studies, but also to enable construction, operation and maintenance of a future project.

The PUD says future development of its project would be impossible without adequate road access, and the route that would be created into Mount Index Riversites using the proposed bridge also would provide for fewer construction-related impacts as compared to the former road access.

Thus the PUD's staff is proposing that the PUD agree to contribute to the cost of installing the bridge to establish the alternate access route in exchange for the benefits of reestablishing access along the MIRCC’s proposed route.

That access would also mean having, "permanent access rights over all roads operated and maintained by MIRCC as well as the bridge," as set forth in a cost sharing agreement.

The agreement provides that operation and maintenance obligations associated with the bridge and the Mount Index Riversites road system would remain with MIRCC, with the exception of potential future maintenance agreements designed to address only the PUD's future construction related impacts.

The District’s cost obligation would be based upon a schedule of values, but capped at $250,000. The complete resolution can be read in the PDF file at upper right. CLICK TO ENLARGE



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