Canal reconstruction project needs environmental study

Cache County Water Manager Bob Fotheringham’s report this week to the County Council indicated that before a proposed multi-million dollar county canal construction project proceeds an environmental impact statement (EIS) will be required. Keith Meikle wasn’t happy with that news. Meikle is President of the Logan Northern Canal Company and he said that decision could turn a three-year project into one that could take five years to complete. Options to distribute water to the valley have been discussed since last summer’s canal breach caused a landslide that killed three people on Logan’s Canyon Road. Jack Keller, a retired irrigation engineer, said the scope of the project makes the EIS virtually inevitable. “The decision to combine the canals was reached so quickly after the accident,” said Keller, “that it seemed certain there were people who had thought, even before the tragedy on Canyon Road, that it would be a good idea to combine the canals.” Keller said if it had been decided to only fix the middle (breached) canal, which is called the Logan Northern Canal, then what is called an environmental assessment would have sufficed, since that would be just repairing the damage and not doing a large change. “When they went for the combining of the canals, that changes the point of diversion for the lower canal, it takes water out of the Logan River, it takes water away from the city power plant and it dries up some stream bed and so on. “Once you get into all of that it gets a lot more complicated and a lot more apt to require an environmental impact statement than an environmental assessment. By doing all this, they put themselves in a position that there are a lot more complicated environmental issues.” Keller said federal regulations dictate procedures in these situations. “It is a somewhat of a subjective decision,” said Keller. “But when you’re making a whole lot of environmental changes it’s not unusual to have to do a full impact statement as opposed to just an assessment. It’s a lot longer process.” Keller said the county went after EWP (Emergency Watershed Protection Act) funds. “They allow you to do extra work if that’s part of what you want to get done,” he said, “but I’m really worried that the county and the sponsors, including the state, aren’t going to be responsible for the extra cost of fixing the upper canal as well as the middle canal. The regulations suggest that if you go beyond what really needs to be done that the sponsors are subject to having to pay 100 percent of the extra work.” Keller said the entire process has become more complicated than it needs to be. “By going beyond the broken canal, the ruptured canal, we’re stretching the regulations and thinking they can be stretched. Asking for this much money puts us in the limelight where people are going to look at this and ask is this really being spent correctly.”

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