Opinion

Our Voice: It's good give people chance to talk about Juniper Dunes

The Juniper Dunes Recreation Area is public property without adequate public access.

This makes no sense.

Efforts to change this ironic plight have been discussed for years without much progress. But while a new road still is years away, a recent meeting has provided a boost for those who can hardly wait for a safe and legal way into the dunes in rural Franklin County.

More than 80 people attended a recent open house that brought together government officials, off-road driving enthusiasts and landowners interested in the project's environmental review. It's an important first step in getting the new road built, as it gives people a chance to get information on the proposal early on and air their concerns.

It is also a sign that perhaps all the dreaming and planning will finally lead to real construction.

Juniper Dunes is about 18 miles northeast of Pasco. It includes 7,100 acres of fenced wilderness, 8,600 acres designated for conservation and 3,900 acres of open land considered by many to be the best in the region for off-road vehicles. The recreation area also is popular with horseback riders and hikers.

The problem is getting to Juniper Dunes means traveling on a private road.

In order to fix this problem, Franklin County officials want to build a nearly 5-mile road from the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway to the dunes, chipping in $330,000. Most of the price tag, which is estimated at $1.8 million to $2.25 million, would be paid by the Federal Highway Administration.

Federal and county officials are deciding between two locations. One would follow the existing Peterson Road and the other would be just to the east of it.

There are issues to be addressed with either option. Peterson Road has irrigation pipelines a few feet below the surface that already stopped an earlier effort to build the road there. The second choice would cut through private farmland, which worries some landowners.

Franklin County officials said farmers would be compensated with federal money if they lose crop land or if they must adjust irrigation lines for the new road.

These are details that need to be addressed and that's why it's good to get all the players in the same room early on. It is hoped the Bureau of Land Management will begin negotiations on buying the land next year so construction could begin in 2016.

The recreation area has been open to the public for decades, but without suitable public access it's been tough for people to get there to enjoy it and unfair to the private landowners.

People need a legal and safe way in and out of the Juniper Dunes. Getting everyone talking is an important move toward that goal.

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