What’s up, Doc? Alpine Lakes bill finally gets hearing

A long-stalled bipartisan proposal to protect a popular recreation river in east King County, and its wild tributary, will finally get a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has failed to act on the legislation even though Republican Rep. Dave Reichert is a prime sponsor.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Tuesday on the House floor that his committee will take up the Alpine lakes legislation next month, promising what he called “a very responsible process.”  But Hastings indicated his continued hostility to wilderness legislation.

“Establishing a wilderness is the most restrictive land use designation Congress can apply to our nation’s lands:  It greatly limits the American public’s access,” Hastings told the House.

The proposal, sponsored in the House by Reichert and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., would put the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River under protection of the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  It would add about 22,000 acres, mainly the Pratt River, to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, the “land of 600 lakes” between Stevens and Snoqualmie Passes.

Hastings ought to visit the Alpine Lakes before dissing wilderness.  He’d witness 100 cars parked at popular Alpine Lakes trailheads, families introducing little kids to hiking at Hyas Lake, and the popularity of the remote Enchantment Lakes — such that the U.S. Forest Service has to limit access and set up a lottery system to distribute permits.

The Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River is the closest mountain valley to Puget Sound population centers.  In recent years, it has been rescued from becoming a mountain slum.  Law enforcement seized a meth lab.  Volunteers hauled trash out of the valley.  And the U.S. Forest Service built a new campground.

Reichert has spent six years trying to protect the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie and the Pratt River.  He was able to get the legislation passed by a Democratic-run House in 2010, but it died in the Senate as Congress rushed to get through with its business.

Over the last two years, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., have easily moved the legislation through the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Until Tuesday, however, the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee has taken no action, even though it is chaired by a Central Washington congressman.

As well, the committee failed to act on legislation, sponsored by Hastings’ Washington colleagues, to create a National Conservation Area on about 1,000 acres of federal land in the San Juan Islands.  President Obama used his executive authority to designate a San Juan Islands National Monument.

Reichert and Murray once held a joint news conference, in a lowland park where three branches of the Snoqualmie River come together, to tout the Alpine Lakes proposal.  They were joined by the mayor of North Bend and other community leaders.  There has been virtually no announced opposition to the legislation.

A second proposal — designating the Mountains to Sound Greenway as a National Heritage Area — is also before the House Natural Resources Committee.

At a meeting on April 30, former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton urged Greenway supporters to contact Hastings’ office and urge support for the legislation.