A legal challenge to the construction of Kapka Sno-park was rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 8.
Shortly after the Forest Service approved construction of the sno-park in 2012, Bend-based Wild Wilderness filed a lawsuit, arguing that the Deschutes National Forest’s approval of the project violated the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Wild Wilderness represents nonmotorized users of the forest.
Kapka Sno-park is located on Forest Road 45, less than a mile from where that road intersects with the Cascade Lakes Highway. Opened in late 2014, the sno-park is intended to cater to snowmobile riders and has space for 70 vehicles with attached trailers.
According to the background as summarized in the opinion, Kapka was developed to alleviate parking congestion and conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized forest visitors, particularly around Tumalo Mountain and the adjacent Dutchman Flat Sno-park, both located about 4 miles up Century Drive from Kapka Sno-park.
In the opinion issued last week, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote that the U.S. District Court in Oregon had been correct to reject the arguments made by Wild Wilderness.
Nguyen wrote that despite the group’s claims, Forest Service officials were in compliance with federal law and the Deschutes Forest Plan during the development and construction of Kapka Sno-park.
In 2011, the Forest Service had prepared a draft of an environmental impact statement while planning the project, but in mid-2012, the agency changed course. The Forest Service declined to complete and release an environmental impact statement (EIS) and instead issued an environmental assessment including the finding the project would have no significant environmental impact.
Nguyen wrote that the Forest Service fulfilled its obligation to explain why the project impact was insufficient to merit an EIS.
“But Wild Wilderness demands something slightly different — an explanation not of why an EIS was unnecessary but instead of why the Forest Service had changed its mind,” Nguyen wrote.
“Wild Wilderness offers no support for this novel procedural requirement.”
Wild Wilderness also took issue with the environmental assessment for failing to address conflicts between snowmobilers and other snow-using groups, but Ngyuen wrote that the Forest Service was not obligated to do so.
“Although the Forest Service has in the past considered tackling both the parking shortage and user conflicts in a single action, they were not so intertwined that the Forest Service was unreasonable in aiming to address one without addressing the other simultaneously,” she wrote.
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