MURPHY, N.C., April 8, 2016 - The U.S. Forest Service has signed a decision to issue a special use authorization to Laurel Creek Property Owners Association allowing access across National Forest System (NFS) land to private property within the Tusquitee Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest.
The authorization allows the landowners, at their own expense, to reconstruct and repair portions of Phillips Ridge Road (Forest Service Road 340A1) and construct approximately one-third mile of new road on NFS land to access their 50-acre tract of private property located within the Fires Creek watershed near Hayesville, NC.
Federal regulations require the Forest Service to allow access to private property that is surrounded by NFS land so the landowner may experience "reasonable use and enjoyment" of their property (36 CFR 251.54). Regulations also require the landowner to exhaust all alternatives means of access through private property or other rights-of-way before approving access across public land.
"While allowing access to private property, we want to ensure that there are no unforeseen environmental impacts," said Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in North Carolina. "We recognize this area is highly valued for its recreation opportunities and outstanding resource waters so we have added measures designed to protect the Fires Creek watershed."
In June 2015, the Forest Service released a draft decision and environmental assessment (EA) that analyzed and disclosed the effects that could result from providing access to the private property across NFS land. The EA considered effects related to water quality, acidic rock, biological resources (including fisheries, botanical resources, wildlife habitat, forest communities, special habitats, management indicator species) scenery, recreation, heritage and cultural resources, and other issues. As part of the analysis, the Forest Service considered comments from individual citizens and a wide variety of organizations concerning the project.
Twelve objections to the project were received in response to the draft decision and EA, one of which has been resolved and withdrawn. In response to the issues raised in the objections, the final decision clarified and enhanced the design criteria. These changes provide additional measures for ensuring protection of water quality and avoiding and minimizing disturbance of acid-producing rock.
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