Plans to improve a segment of the road through the Snake River Canyon near Jackson could be affected by plans to designate part of the river a "wild and scenic" river.
The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing a 10-year-old study and recommendations on the Snake in hopes of convincing Congress to provide the designation for a 13-mile segment of the river.The designation would impose standards on road construction that would not otherwise apply, such as one that roads along such rivers not be "conspicuous for a long segment of the eligible river."
Federal and state plans for the road call for the construction of 2.3 miles of new retaining structures and a new one-half mile bridge that would be visible from the part of the river nominated for "scenic" designation.
Harry Underwood, of the state Highway Department overseeing the Snake River project, said officials had believed the project had been cleared by the Forest Service.
"This is something I thought we had ironed out with the Forest Service before we put that draft (plan out)," he said. "It's something we have to talk about."
The road could be improved without major intrusion on the Snake, Underwood said.
"There could be that there are design options that could be looked at," he said. "We'll see what we can come up with that is a compatible design."
For instance, plans to build the bridge across a landslide might have to be scrapped, Underwood said.
"If the structure is offensive to everybody, we have to take other looks, maybe we have to live with (the landslide)," he said.
The Snake was studied for wild and scenic designation in a 1982 environmental impact statement that recommended 25.5 miles of the river receive the designation.
Such a designation protects a segment of the river from development.
The secretary of Agriculture nominated only 13 miles of the river downstream of Astoria for the designation, but Congress never acted on the proposal.
Activity on the study was renewed during the cleanup of a backlog of legislative initiatives.
"We thought it was an opportune time, that maybe we should propose it again," said David Lundeen, who works with the Forest Service's recreation staff in Washington, D.C.
It could take two to three months to move the proposal to Congress, Lundeen said.
Susan Marsh, recreation officer for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, said the designation would provide needed protection for the river.
"I think the status as a national river just adds credence that it is an important river," she said.