Friday, April 28, 2006

How high will Big Wood rise?

Ketchum officials lay out plans to cope with flood


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

As temperatures rise and heavy winter snows melt, Ketchum officials are preparing themselves—and residents—for possible flooding along the Big Wood River and its tributaries.

"We're going to see some impacts," said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall. "To what degree, I don't know. We don't have all the answers right now, but we're working very hard to get those answers."

Approximately two dozen people attended a town meeting at Ketchum City Hall Wednesday to find out what the city is doing to prepare.

"It has been quite a few years since the city has experienced significant flooding," said Stefanie Webster, city planner and floodplain coordinator. "A lot of property owners have never experienced a flood."

Some minor flooding has been reported in the past couple of decades, but 1983 was the last year a significant flood event occurred.

The city is in the process of preparing paperwork to declare a state of emergency, Hall said.

That allows Ketchum to apply for grants and financial reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for activities related to disaster relief or mitigation.

"We're in a pretty good position from a financial standpoint," Hall said.

Residents, too, have financial benefits available to them.

Ketchum is a community ratings system member, which is a FEMA-approved designation that, with Ketchum's current rating, allows for a 10 percent discount on federal flood insurance, Webster said.

The Army Corps of Engineers was in town Thursday, scanning the river and its banks for "hot spots," or problematic scenarios.

City officials are also formulating an evacuation plan, locating shelters and coordinating with the Red Cross.

Ketchum Area Rapid Transit buses will be available for emergency transport.

Multiple city departments are coordinating efforts and streamlining communication to ensure response is quick and effective, said Police Chief Cory Lyman.

The Ketchum operations center will function out of City Hall, at 480 East Ave. North, which will also serve as the communications hub.

The Street Department has a stockpile of 36,000 sandbags for the protection of city property.

"Our duties are primarily to protect city infrastructure," said Brian Christiansen, street superintendent. "All we need is a whole bunch of volunteers to help us."

Additional sandbags, limited to 50 per Ketchum resident, are available until they run out at the Street Department.

Christiansen said the biggest threats are trees getting caught in the river and diverting water.

Steve Hansen, utilities manager, said his department is working to protect the city's water and sewer system.

"It's very, very vulnerable to flooding if a stream bank erodes or a line collapses," he said. "Our priority is to protect the Big Wood River. That's why we have the treatment plant."

Bacteria monitoring around town may increase from monthly to weekly or even daily, he said. Chlorine doses will be increased if bacteria levels rise.

Hansen advised people to make sure their well heads and septic tanks are protected and sealed.

He echoed the statement that trees are the biggest threat.

"We're in danger even in normal water years," he said.

He cautioned people not to remove downed trees, but rather to call the city.

Jen Smith, city arborist, is available to advise property owners on tree issues.

"Hopefully, we can avert disaster by early notification," Hansen said.

Rising ground water is already causing flooded basements, he said. If a property owner needs to pump their basement, they are advised to notify the city first, but the city doesn't have the resources to do the pumping.

Officials offered a few tips to help residents help themselves:

· Place sandbags or bladders within a maximum of 10 feet from your structure. Do not line your whole property with sandbags in an effort to protect landscaping. That could further damage other residents' properties.

· If you live within the 25-foot riparian setback zone, try to minimize further encroachment.

· Keep a lookout for fallen trees or ones that are about to fall. Notify the city if there appears to be a danger. Do not try to remove the trees yourself.

· If you live in the floodplain, pick up from the city Planning Department an emergency stream bank stabilization permit application and Idaho Department of Water Resources waiver in case you need to apply quickly for approval.

· If a flood is imminent, bring all lawn furniture, barbecues and other items inside.

· Don't leave animals in your backyard. Move them to a safe area.

· Decide beforehand whether you will follow the evacuation notification. If you chose to stay put, emergency responders may not be able to reach you if you need them, Lyman warned.

· If you leave town, let the city know your property will be unattended.

· Don't try to stand in water. It's stronger and faster than many people realize.

· Keep a level head.

"The sky is not falling," Lyman said. "I think we're ahead of the game (in preparedness)."

For more information, go to www.idaho.gov/government/homeland_security and www.ketchumidaho.org.

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Flood Assistance

· For general information, call the Ketchum city offices at 726-3841. That number will be staffed 24 hours a day during a flood event.

· For non-life-threatening but imminent situations after hours, call dispatch at 726-7833. For emergencies, call 911.




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