The Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project activities were approved by the U.S. Forest Service in February 2020 based on the analysis documented in the November 2019 environmental assessment.
As a result of ensuing litigation, though the court ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service in two of the three claims, the case was remanded back to the forest service in a March 30 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, according to a news release.
Though the court did not rule the project presented any threat to the water quality of Lake Monroe, the ruling stated the forest service failed “to fully evaluate the environmental effects to Lake Monroe.”
To address the court’s ruling, the forest service has produced a draft supplemental information report for the project, which is now available for a 30-day public review.
The draft report is meant to provide information that further clarifies already available information in the administrative record on the environmental effects to Lake Monroe and will facilitate the intent to show the public the forest service’s interest in protecting water quality to the communities surrounding the Hoosier National Forest.
Although this does not change the outcome of the decision and is not significant in terms of changes to the effects, it helps disclose information as required by the court and to further evaluate effects from the project on the lake.
The draft report was based on the project record and new information from the ruling of the district court March 30 and the Lake Monroe Watershed Management Plan, dated Feb. 23.
The mitigation actions described in the draft report and the environmental assessment and specialist reports, which are incorporated to protect water quality in the Lake Monroe watersheds, have been shown to be highly effective in protecting water quality and exceed those recommended by the Lake Monroe Watershed Management Plan, giving the forest service a high level of confidence that the implementation of the actions in the Houston South restoration project will not negatively impact the water quality of Lake Monroe.
“Based on the findings of the draft SIR, it is my decision that a correction, supplement or revision to the project environmental assessment is not necessary. Additionally, consideration of the information contained, and incorporated by reference, in the draft SIR addresses the court’s ruling by fully evaluating environmental effects to Lake Monroe from the Houston South restoration project, and this does not trigger a significant change to the project to need supplementation,” said Chris Thornton, district ranger.
The public is invited to provide input regarding the draft SIR during a 30-day review period ending at midnight Nov. 7. Responses received will be used as a basis for finalization of the SIR.
Implementation of the Houston South project may resume following completion of the final SIR as long as there is no change in effects warranting a correction, supplement or revision to the 2019 environmental assessment.