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#19307 - 10/17/11 06:49 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: AsABat]
SierraNevada Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 781
Loc: NorCal
After talking with the Inyo Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta and Whitney District Ranger Margaret Wood, I realized they need some sort of push to get them to revisit this issue. They seem to realize they made a mistake in the NEPA process, but they aren't likely to dedicate resources to finish the Environmental Assessment on their own. I mentioned that I would be sending an appeal letter to get them to dedicate resources to this issue. They were not thrilled, but okay with it. Both the Forest Supervisor and District Ranger are new, so I think they will take a fresh look at this if they see enough interest in the issue. Steve reviewed the appeal letter and posted it on this website for you to sign and send in.

Think of the appeal letter as a petition letter. The more letters they get, the more serious they will take this. The letter reads somewhat legalistic by necessity. They have a couple technicalities they can use to dismiss it, but they can't ignore it, and it can be elevated if necessary. The important thing is for everyone interested to send in a copy to persuade them to finish the NEPA process and reconsider new toilets. At the very least, consider new toilets at Outpost Camp on a trial basis.

If you include a cover letter, realize these people did not make these decisions, but they are the ones who can make a change. So be polite and factual. If you submitted comments back in 2004, then we really need you - please post or PM me or Steve if you were involved in 2004.

The appeal letter is at:

http://www.whitneyzone.com/docs/misc/NEPA_Appeal_EA_to_InyoNF.pdf

For those of you pushing for action on this issue, here's your chance! Post or PM if you have questions or comments.

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#19318 - 10/18/11 03:47 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: SierraNevada]
Eugene K Offline


Registered: 08/15/11
Posts: 40
Loc: San Diego, CA
I wonder if they have solar toilets at the summit of Everest. If not, whether anyone ever tried to force Nepalese government to install and maintain them by threatening to sue.

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#19320 - 10/18/11 04:23 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Eugene K]
SierraNevada Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 781
Loc: NorCal
Yes Eugene, they have installed solar toilets at Everest base camp around 20,000 ft. Some worked well, some not so well, depending on the design. All materials get scavenged as soon as the parties leave the mountain, but there are success stories if you care to do some research.

Nobody is suing here, or even threatening to sue, and nobody is forcing anything. The appeal is asking Inyo to finish the Environmental Assessment like they were supposed to. They dropped the ball and its time to pick it back up. An appeal letter has a specific format and content that must be followed, which is by nature somewhat legalistic, but required. The real purpose is to get them to assign resources to finishing the process. Without some kind of pressure, it won't happen.

Ironically, they created a technical catch for themselves by not finishing the EA. There is a 45-day window to file an appeal once the decision document is published. Since they never published an official decision document, there is no official time to appeal. Again, the purpose is to get them to assign resources to this issue, not to force anything.

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#19322 - 10/18/11 05:15 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: SierraNevada]
Eugene K Offline


Registered: 08/15/11
Posts: 40
Loc: San Diego, CA
I'm not talking about base camp, though, I'm talking about the summit. You're proposing to build a toilet in a highly prominent spot and hire outside contractors who would be forced to hike 20 miles round trip at high altitude to service the toilet several times a year. (That, or we should pay for helicopter rides for them, and I'm not sure which option is better.)

You are trying to conflate two different issues. One, Inyo NF did not dot their i's and cross their t's when they made a decision to go with wag bags. All they need to do is hire some lawyers, spend a couple million dollars to do a proper EIS that quantifies damage done to environment by irresponsible hikers who choose to poop behind some rock or forget their used wag bags on the trail, and there is absolutely nothing in this process that would force them (nay, let them) to go with solar toilets instead.

Two, you are asking them to actually go back and restart the whole process by including Long Peak style solar toilets, which would cost even more because then they'd have to do a new EA.

The whole thing looks like a non-issue to me. I've accumulated a good cache of unopened wag bags by now, I think I have four or five. What's the big problem with just holding it in for 12 to 36 hours?


Edited by Eugene K (10/18/11 05:16 PM)

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#19323 - 10/18/11 08:21 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Eugene K]
Steve C Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 5201
Loc: Fresno, CA
Eugene K wrote:
> You're proposing to build a toilet in a highly prominent spot and hire outside contractors who would be forced to hike 20 miles round trip at high altitude to service the toilet several times a year

Eugene, that is quite a bit off the mark. Nobody is proposing a toilet anywhere. There is a suggestion that a trial system be set up at Outpost, but that is not even the main point. Rather, the process in 2004 was short-circuited, and the letter is just asking Inyo to complete the process.

Please look at the letter.

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#19324 - 10/18/11 08:22 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Eugene K]
SierraNevada Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 781
Loc: NorCal
Don't worry Eugene, nobody is going to force anyone to do a $2 million EIR and ride helicopters to the summit. I'm glad you think its a non-issue. Keep storing those wag bags, you might need one some day, or you might have a nice new toilet to use.

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#19325 - 10/18/11 08:57 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Steve C]
Eugene K Offline


Registered: 08/15/11
Posts: 40
Loc: San Diego, CA
Originally Posted By: Steve C
Rather, the process in 2004 was short-circuited, and the letter is just asking Inyo to complete the process.

Please look at the letter.


I did look at the letter. Please point me where I go off the mark.

1. Solar toilets of Long Peak design (and the associated concept of using private contractors and llamas to remove solid waste) were not part of the original EA. The alternative 1 of the EA proposes toilets maintained by park rangers three times a week and solid waste removed by helicopter.

2. Therefore, choosing to build solar toilets of Long Peak design is not an allowed outcome under the federal law.

3. They can't reasonably file a FONSI because there is in fact an environmental impact due to the use of WAG bags.

4. Drafting an EIS is an enormously expensive undertaking that can easily cost the national forest office over a million dollars.

5. And completing that process would make absolutely no effect on the presence or absence of toilets on the mountain (except for the obvious problem that the forest would have a lot less money in in its budget to build them.)


Edited by Eugene K (10/18/11 08:57 PM)

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#19327 - 10/19/11 05:57 AM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Eugene K]
Rboone Offline


Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 15
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: Eugene K
What's the big problem with just holding it in for 12 to 36 hours?

You can't be serious. How much enjoyment of the Whitneyzone can one have if forced to "hold it in for 12-36 hours" and deal with the discomfort. Altitude affects everyone differently, especially those with a touch of AMS, and holding it would be an impossibility. No thanks, no interest. This is totally unrealistic and apparently many agree.

Separately, when a friend and I hiked to the summit Oct. 2-3 we saw several used Wag Bags discarded along the trail. There were several left behind near our camp at Trail Camp and I saw two left behind on or near the summit. Yes, I realize the MT experiences high traffic and there will always be some noncompliant bad apples but even so I found the used Wag Bags left behind really irritating and it did dilute the experience somewhat. Twenty years ago when I hiked to the summit along the MT and when there were toilets I saw no trash/human waste left behind on or off trail.

Letter printed, signed, and mailed.

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#19349 - 10/20/11 06:19 AM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Rboone]
SierraNevada Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 781
Loc: NorCal
Rboone, thanks for taking the time and effort to convert your concerns into action. Expect a courtesy but legalistic letter back from Inyo saying the appeal has been dismissed. Even if you submitted comments back in 2004, they can argue about the open period to file an appeal. Since they never published an official decision document there is no open filing period to file this appeal - normally 45 days after the DD is published. So they have a couple technicalities to fall back on, and that's fine. This situation is so bizarre I'm sure they don't want it formalized.

More importantly, I expect them to explain what they intend to do to rectify the situation as new managers working on this problem. Just think of this as a petition to get them focused and justify assigning resources on this.

Thanks for stepping up, maybe it will encourage others.

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#19355 - 10/20/11 05:24 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Eugene K]
CaT Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/24/09
Posts: 693
Loc: Blacklick, OH (formerly SoCal)
Originally Posted By: Eugene K
What's the big problem with just holding it in for 12 to 36 hours?

The big problem is that it's about as realistic as suggesting I hold my breath for the same amount of time. Regardless of altitude (this happens here in the lowlands of Ohio, too, I promise), when you have to go, you have to go, and additional hiking to arrive somewhere to do it, only makes the urge to go all the more acute (been there, done that many times, despite desparately trying to "hold it" for as long as possible -- usually don't even make it to 12 to 36 minutes, let alone 12 to 36 hours!).

CaT
_________________________
If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracle of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.
- Lyndon Johnson, on signing the Wilderness Act into law (1964)

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#19398 - 10/24/11 06:10 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: CaT]
SierraNevada Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 781
Loc: NorCal
I started a new thread over on the MWPSMB Solar Toilets Better Than Wag Bags. My original post has been edited, the title changed, and links to documents have been deleted. If you're interested, go read it quickly because I'm sure the entire thread will be removed soon, which is what happened to two previous threads on this topic.

Here's the original post in it's entirety before it was butchered:

If you would like Inyo NF management to take a fresh look at reinstalling toilets at Outpost Camp and Trail Camp now is the time to get a little involved. If you're frustrated with seeing these bags full of human waste littering the trail then copy this letter, sign it, and send it to the Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta.

Mt Whitney Toilets Appeal Letter

How things got to this point is a long and interesting story. Most of it is explained in the letter. To summarize, there have been toilets of some kind on Mt Whitney for 50 years, starting with pit toilets and progressing to solar powered toilets. Unfortunately, they never got the design quite right, and the Rangers were burdened with maintaining a crappy system that was no better than a pit toilet. In about 2002 the toilets got so bad they launched a project to replace them. That involved drafting an Environmental Assessment, published in 2004 in accordance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures to make sure public comments were considered. The EA was very well done and they looked into 5 alternatives including the mandatory "do nothing." The preferred alternative was to replace the toilets. Alternative 5 was to implement a Packout Program which you are keenly aware of if you've hiked the trail since 2007.

There are 3 ways to complete the environmental review process for a project of this nature. 1) an EXEMPTION if its a "typical" noncontroversial routine project such as repaving a road. 2) prepare an ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (EA) that describes all reasonable alternatives and potential impacts of each alternative and describes in detail the "preferred alternative." A 30-day comment period is required to accept public input. Public input is the main reason for all of this in the first place to make sure every citizen and agency who might be affected gets a chance to influence the decision. If the decision has no significant impacts, then a Finding of No Significant Impacts (FONSI) is prepared. There is another chance for public review at this point, but there are loopholes to avoid public input if it's a routine noncontroversial project. The last step is to publish a decision document to let everyone know what decision has been made, why it was made, and how the public comments were considered. or 3.) If there ARE significant impacts, then an ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT is required, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions) and take years to complete. An EIS is a big deal and you only see them on big projects. The 2004 EA for replacing the toilets can viewed here

Mt Whitney 2004 EA for Replacing Toilets

At this point in January 2004 things suddenly took a strange turn. When the EA notice was published in the newspaper, the preferred alternative was described as a Packout program (Alternative 5) instead of the preferred alternative (replace the toilets) described in the EA. What was really happening in the background was a zealous Ranger was convincing the District Ranger that wag bags would be the best solution. Now keep in mind the Rangers were forced to keep these badly designed toilets going which must have been a very crappy job. The District Ranger Garry Oye was a very ambitious fellow and together they made up their minds to "fix" this situation.

At this point in a project, product research is conducted. An engineer would call a lot of vendors who build and install wilderness toilets and get all the information available from other people facing this challenge and companies providing solutions. Why reinvent the wheel when someone has surely figured this out already? Only a few calls were placed and new toilets were somehow impossible. The largest manufacturer received one brief phone call. His company did so much business with the National Park Service they had a pre-approved government contract to quickly install a turnkey guaranteed solution. He received one brief phone call, no follow up.

Then nothing happened for 2 years and 11 months. Suddenly in December 2006 District Ranger Garry Oye released a very strange memo "To Those Interested in Mt Whitney Waste Management." The memo resembles a decision document, but it doesn't claim to be a decision document and it doesn't meet basic criteria for a decision document such as attaching the FONSI and describing how public comments were considered. It's really more of a PR notice. Most bizarre is the lack of a Finding of No Significant Impact. Read it for yourself here

Garry Oye Memo Implementing Wag Bags

This PR memo is the last Inyo NF document on this subject. So that's where the process left off. Nothing has happened since Dec 2006. The process is in limbo and there is no Forest Service Order implementing the Wag Bag policy.

If you would like to get the process going again, please print, sign, and mail the Appeal Letter. The situation is so bizzare they've created a "Catch 22" loophole for themselves (watch the movie "MASH" if you don't know what I'm talking about). Because they didn't publish a Decision Document, there is no open period in which to appeal the decision. Also, you technically need to have submitted comments back in 2004 in order to file an appeal. But don't let that stop you, just print, sign, and mail the appeal letter and consider it a petition to get this going again.

I've been in contact with the new Forest Supervisor and new District Ranger at Inyo. They were not involved in these decisions so they have a fresh perspective, which offers a unique opportunity to take a new look at this situation. If you send in a copy of the appeal letter, it will probably be dismissed on a technicality, but it will allow them to dedicate resources to this issue. The more letters they get, the better.

One last point, why am I so involved in this issue? Well I've only climbed Whitney 3 times, most recently with my 15 yr old daughter. We saw a lot of wag bags littering the trail and my daughter was disgusted. I have a unique background to look into this as a structural engineer, civil engineer, and building contractor with lots of environmental experience including water quality. What really motivated me was the crazy hostile comments I received on this message board. People that were involved in this process back in 2004 are EXTREMELY sensitive and they are convinced that toilets will not work. That NO CAN Do attitude triggers my solution-oriented engineering gene and that's what keeps me going. I might hike Whiteney one more time with my son, but otherwise, I have no interest in this. I just want to get this back on track, regardless of where it ends up. Your help is sincerely appreciated.

If you're wondering, gee, are solar powered toilets really feasible, please read this report from the Rocky Mountain NP Park Engineer entitled, "Performance Evaluation of Backcountry Soar Toilets," 2010. They have a 28-yr history of success at similar elevation and similar heavy use on Longs Peak in Colorado. Now maybe you're thinking those Colorado folks are just smarter than Californians. Maybe they are, but I think we can figure this out for Whitney.

Performance Report of Backcountry Toilets, Rocky Mtn NP

Please send in a copy of the appeal letter to Ed Armenta at Inyo. Thanks.

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#19421 - 10/25/11 09:45 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Ken]
DUG Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 302
Loc: Wildomar
WAG vs solar -

WAG - PITA and kinda gross if not handled correctly. Always there when you need it.

Solar - No handling problems, yet still as gross as any public toilet. Not your problem when you're done with your business though.

My point is - I don't recall ever using the solar toilets when they were there (except for some funny photo ops at the summit) since I did not have to go when they were close by. I can only recall four times I've ever had to "go" in the Whitney Zone in my 20+ trips there.

Once was at LPL on a quick after lunch hike with my wife. (Yeah, we've actually driven 4 hours to have lunch at the Portal) Another time was at Trail Crest (on the way to the summit - gotta lighten the load). I had to use all three of my teams bags above Mirror Lake on a failed summit bid (I had turned around at Trail Camp due to stomach pain). The last time was a few hundred feet below the final 400 on the MR. That was a toughie because I could hear RichardP and my son talking above me and see others coming up towards me. Richard and my son had jokes, but a short while later after snacking prior to climbing the final 400 they both had to go fill their WAG bags. They had more privacy though.

I hate the bags because they are a PITA all around. I've seen over 20 "stashed" in my WZ travels since their use became mandatory. It kills the wilderness moment every time.

The Grand Canyon has enough solar toilets that most folks should be able to make the next one if needed.
Then again, I would hate to see a toilet or two on the 99 switchers.

I guess I'll leave this one up to whoever has the best set of credentials and I'll keep packing the WAG.

Now everyone knows how many times I've *$&% in the Whitney Zone.

As far as my credentials go - I am a mid western (mid 80s) HS grad, recently retired from 26 short years in the Navy, a "highly trained" (as per the US Navy - not me - says so on my annual evals) Support Equipment Mech, and I have chit in the woods. Unlike the bears, I have carried said chit back out more often than not.

Wake me up when this topic gets back to solar vs WAG and not a credentials check. smile.....................................DUG




Edited by DUG (10/26/11 07:00 AM)

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#19460 - 10/28/11 02:29 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: DUG]
+ @ti2d Offline
WHA member

Registered: 10/22/09
Posts: 619
Loc: Oh Cursed, USA
Given the type of "green" technology now, I am for the solar toilets. Technology has come a long way sincer those solars at OC and TC were installed years ago.

Seeing WAG bags is not very appealing. I came to enjoy the schenery and the challenge of the MWT and not see remnants of human encroachment and their disregard for the beauty of the Sierra.

I just hope they don't have rangers toting blue barrels like they did in the past. Rangers deserve better than that.
_________________________
Have fun and enjoy the Gr8 Yd Opn.

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#21341 - 02/09/12 06:41 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: + @ti2d]
SierraNevada Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 781
Loc: NorCal
Inyo NF finally replied to the Environmental Assessment Appeal I sent in last October. Apparently my hard copy sent via US mail never arrived, just my email. A few people said they also sent in a copy of the appeal letter. If they really did, the USPS apparently didn't deliver them because they claim not to have any others.

The reply admits the NEPA process was not completed. Here's the tortured reasoning: Since the program is only VOLUNTARY, they claim it was okay not to finish the environmental process. If wag bags were MANDATORY, they admit the environmental process would need to be completed. There you have it. That's the logic.

The reply goes on to claim a 99% compliance rate and completely ignores the report I emailed from Rocky Mtn NP describing their 29-yr success with solar toilets at 12,000+ ft.

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#21344 - 02/10/12 04:43 AM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: SierraNevada]
wbtravis Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1107
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Interesting. The next time I do Mt. Whitney I am going to refuse a WAG bag and see what the response is. My guess is I will be told I cannot go up the trail without one.

Let's see if I got this right, you have a trail that above 10,800' level is most rock and you cannot bury waste all that swell, you have upwards to 200 people a day traveling this area during the quota season and you have a voluntary program for human waste disposal. It seem to me this is a recipe for disaster...but that's just me.

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#21349 - 02/10/12 06:05 AM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: wbtravis]
Steve C Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 5201
Loc: Fresno, CA
> The next time I do Mt. Whitney I am going to refuse a WAG bag and see what the response is. My guess is I will be told I cannot go up the trail without one.

There are also rules in place that require you to dispose of wastes properly. If you cannot do that, it leaves you with one option: pack it out.

I think the points SierraNevada is making is that Environmental Assessment process was never completed, and the old toilets were removed primarily because of the trouble in servicing them.

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#21366 - 02/10/12 12:07 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: Steve C]
wbtravis Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1107
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
I've don't have a problem with the current policy, and I will carry a WAG bag. I just want to see what they say.

BTW, I forgot my WAG bag the first time up under this new policy. I did not have a problem finding a place at Trail Camp to dig my proper hole. However, this in May two weeks into the new policy...just after the Trail Camp Solar Latrine mysteriously burnt down.

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#21377 - 02/10/12 05:15 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: wbtravis]
lynn-a-roo Offline
WHA member

Registered: 08/14/10
Posts: 551
Loc: OrangeCounty
OMG, solar toilets are a sight for sore eyes for me when I'm hiking the Mt. Whitney Trail. I miss them terribly. Heck, I miss the little wooden enclosure with the toilet seat to set my wag bag on, it was located at Outpost Camp, that little toilet seat was heaven on earth on the Whitney Trail. My legs just can't take all that squatting. Every time I work out with my trainer and she tells me to do squats and hold them I tell her "this is my Mt. Whitney Trail Camp exercise". It's so nice to have some privacy too. Anything, I mean anything that would give a person some privacy and some comfort for a short while when nature calls would be an absolute blessing. I don't hate wag bags and I don't hate solar toilets and I don't hate just a toilet seat on a pair of legs, but I do hate squatting without any support, my thighs and calves are screaming at me while I'm waiting for nature to take its course. Sorry for being so blantantly honest but lets face the facts folks, it's really nice to set your tush down when the call of nature beckons and when you're so far from civilization on that mountain being able to do your thing comfortably is one of life's little pleasures on the mountain besides looking at the stars, smelling the trees and listening to the birds, why heck, you can do all those things at the same time as you're doing the other thing. LIFE IS GOOD!

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#21378 - 02/10/12 05:34 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: SierraNevada]
RoguePhotonic Offline


Registered: 12/08/09
Posts: 531
Loc: Bakersfield CA
Quote:
Anything, I mean anything that would give a person some privacy and some comfort for a short while when nature calls would be an absolute blessing.


I hear that! I am the same way that by the time I am done my legs and feet are killing me. I always tell people the worst part of backpacking is squatting to go.

When I see a rusty, filthy, decrepit, out of level old pit toilet in the back country for use I am happy as can be! Hold the bees of course! (Redwood Meadow)
_________________________
FlickR

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#21765 - 03/05/12 03:01 PM Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags [Re: RoguePhotonic]
SierraNevada Offline
WHA member

Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 781
Loc: NorCal
Update early March 2012:
Last week I sent a reply to the Inyo Forest Supervisor responding to the District Ranger's email response to my appeal of the Environmental Assessment. I also requested a copy of all public documents pertaining to the Environmental Assessment. I still have not received a formal written reply to the appeal letter sent last October, which should come from the Forest Supervisor, not the District Ranger, per National Forest Service NEPA appeal regulations.

In my letter, I point out that this program is not exactly "voluntary." By removing the toilets, what else is a hiker to do? Except for a few locations where digging a cathole might be acceptable, there really is no other responsible option except to carry out your human waste.

Also, the following terms are used in Inyo publications to describe the human waste packout program, "required" "must" "expected to" and "only acceptable." The claim just doesn't hold up, in my opinion, that this is a "voluntary" program and therefore it was not necessary to finish the environmental process.

I still have not received one comment or even acknowledgement of the Rocky Mountain National Park Engineer Report on the Performance of Backcountry Toilets.

Despite the slow and limited response to date, I'm still optimistic that a sincere effort will eventually prevail to get this right.

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