Friday, May 5, 2006

Hoist the sandbags

Army Corps of Engineers highlights areas of concern along the Big Wood

Express Staff Writer

Probationary firefighter Rebecca Rusch holds a bag under a sand truck, retrofitted to fill sandbags. Behind her, firefighter/EMT Dave Windham and engineer/EMT Fabrizio Lizano wait their turns. Express photo by Rebecca Meany

The hustle at Warm Springs Village at the base of Bald Mountain Tuesday came not from straggler skiers.

Record snowfall that brought delight to many winter recreationists has turned into a potential liability.

Approximately two dozen members of the Ketchum Fire Department prepped the city for potential flood conditions along the Big Wood River and its tributaries, including Warm Springs Creek.

"This is good training for us," said acting Fire Chief Mike Elle.

Instead of a drill, the Fire Department Tuesday engaged in infrastructure protection at the end of Puchner Lane, off Picabo Street.

A city sanding truck was converted into a sandbag-filler, and firefighters lined up to stuff their sacks.

"The concern is this bank here," Elle said to his crew. "Once the water gets over it, all the water starts running on to Picabo Street. The idea here is to keep the water back in the channel."

Just over an hour later, nearly 600 bags of sand had been filled and stacked neatly against a concrete containing wall.

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall on Monday proclaimed a local disaster emergency.

The declaration gives the city emergency powers to act in preventative ways to keep flood waters from causing damage, said City Administrator Ron LeBlanc.

It also allows the city to take action against people who attempt to divert flood water on to others' property, and it makes the city eligible for flood mitigation reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in town last week, identified "hot spots" up and down the Wood River Valley, including the Puchner Lane area.

At the Warm Springs Bridge area, engineers advised having a backhoe with a grappling hook there during flood stage to remove debris from the river. It also suggested setting up a video camera for constant surveillance during high flows, and placing sandbags across Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood property.

Adams Gulch Bridge, on the north end of Ketchum, might need riprap protection and monitoring of erosion of fill and abutments by the Big Wood River and Adams Creek.

The work suggested by the Army Corp of Engineers is for the city.

Any resident wishing to do flood preparation work must check with the city and get necessary permits or approval.

Six hundred property owners within the 500-year floodplain in the city limits will be getting letters from the city, LeBlanc said.

The notices outline the city's flood plan, including protection of city infrastructure and response to life safety emergencies. It reminds residents that the city doesn't have the resources to protect private property or to pump water from homeowners' basements.

During a flood, property owners have a right to protect their structures, but sandbags and water bladders must be placed 6 to 10 feet from the structure's perimeter and not in the floodway.

More information on the floodplain is available on the city's Web site,, or by calling 726-3841.

Lower down on the Big Wood, Army engineers identified a possibility of the Broadford Road Bridge in Bellevue becoming a constricting point for river flow and water collecting upstream from the bridge and topping the levee.

Also, to protect Carey residences, outbuildings and 5,000 acres of cultivated cropland near the Little Wood River, the Corps recommended the eastern Blaine County city place riprap protection on both sides of the bank and monitor flows.


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.

 Local Weather 
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