Friday, September 15, 2006

Gravel extraction proposed near Bellevue

Will operations hinder Big Wood restoration project?

Express Staff Writer

Two applications to extract gravel from the Big Wood River channel south of Bellevue will be reviewed by the Blaine County Commission Monday at 10:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.

The applicants, Larry Anderson and S. Erwin, want to extract 10,000 and 20,000 cubic yards per year, respectively, from the channel south of Glendale Bridge. The area is already zoned industrial and is home to gravel operations.

Rich McIntyre, creator of the Wood River Legacy Project, which seeks to restore flows and fish habitat to a seasonally-dry 12-mile stretch of the Big Wood River south of Bellevue, is concerned that if the applications are approved they could derail the restorative project.

"(But) we are not going to take an official position on the existing permit applications," McIntyre said. "What we want is the commissioners to consider the potential of a river channel going back through that area, and we want to make sure that whatever does occur does not preclude that for the future."

The Big Wood River south of Glendale Bridge is diverted into canals to feed agricultural operations every summer.

McIntyre said he does not want to impact flows guaranteed to farmers and ranchers south of Bellevue. And he does not want to run any operation in the industrial area out of business, as he expressed in a letter to Jim Walker, owner of Walker Sand and Gravel, south of Bellevue, on Aug. 21.

In a meeting with the Blaine County Commission in early August, Walker expressed concern that the river restoration project would harm his business.

"We do not see a restored river and your gravel operation (or any other industrial use) as mutually exclusive, and have no intention or desire to put you out of business, Jim, period," McIntyre wrote. "It would be good to move to communication and leave distrust behind."

McIntyre claims his project is designed to give water rights holders, who may not need or use all of their allotted water, an option to keep some of it in-stream. The project, which hinges on the alteration of entrenched Idaho water laws that enforce a strict "use it or lose it" policy, would only add more water to the basin and aquifer, McIntyre claimed.

The project has been widely embraced by down-basin agricultural communities but has sparked concern among farmers, ranchers and gravel operators immediately south of Bellevue.

McIntyre hopes to alleviate some of those concerns, which he views as misunderstandings, during a public forum Tuesday, Sept. 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Community Campus auditorium in Hailey.

Wood River Legacy Project

What: Presentation, Q&A

When: Tuesday, Sept. 19, 7-9 p.m.

Where: Community Campus Auditorium, Hailey

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