Posted: Apr 15, 2013 By: Hunter Moore
Phoenix, AZ — On Monday, April 15, a delegation of representatives from the White Mountains descended on Phoenix to attend oral proceedings, and a public hearing, held by ADOT. The purpose of the meeting was to address the reclassification of SR 273 (which is the major route that connects HWY 260 to HWY 180 and allows travelers to access Sunrise Ski Park and Big Lake), and to address similar issues on state routes 473 and 261 (261 is the most direct link from Big Lake north to Eagar/Springerville). Currently, these state routes are classified for a 20,000 lbs weight limit, and officials and local residents are hopeful that the limit will be raised to 80,000 lbs in short order to accommodate the needs of local forest industry.
The hearing addressed essentially two issues. First, the need to expedite the reclassification of SR 273 by the State of Arizona from 20,000 lbs to 80,000 as a result of a recent reconstruction project on the route. Second, the need for ADOT and state lawmakers to take whatever actions are necessary to temporarily lift the weight restrictions on routes 473 and 261 to accommodate the enormous amount of salvage wood that needs to be transported off the Wallow Fire footprint before the end of this summer.
Proponents of these efforts are highly concerned with the jobs tied to the timber industry. Without direct transportation routes out of the forest, the process of extracting the wood is too expensive for the industry to be profitable. One local timber outfit has already laid-off 20 employees because they do not have the access they need to the material in the forest.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the clock is ticking on the economic value of the wood in the forest. If the material is not removed from the forest before the monsoon rains this summer, it is very likely that the wood will lose most, if not all, of its value due to insect infestation and rot. Thus, time is of the essence.
Navajo County Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger (District 5) highlighted the significant importance of moving the process along quickly. “Commercial traffic in the White Mountains, forest restoration and fire mitigation need to be at the forefront of our thoughts,” said Whitesinger. Catastrophic wildfires are occurring at a landscape scale, so the only proper response is to manage the forest at a landscape scale. Since State Route 273 has been rebuilt to an 80,000 lb standard we need this process to be expedited and we need that road available to logging trucks tomorrow.”
Supervisor David Tenney also commented on the subject, “There needs to be a systemic approach to address these road issues. The infrastructure does not need to be an impediment to the progress of cleaning up our forests and slowing down our industries, and we need the help of our state leaders to fast-track this issue through the bureaucracy. Routes 261 and 473 are just as critical, if not more critical, to the work that needs to be done in the forest,” said Tenney. “While those roads are not currently built to handle 80,000 lbs for an extended period of time, we need the State to make exceptions for a short term solution that would allow industry to reduce the fuel load in the forest, stay out of the red, and remove the threat of the salvage timber causing another fire in the region. We implore the State to act quickly.”