Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hailey rink proposal remains on ice

Environmental concerns put plan in doubt

Express Staff Writer

Graphic Courtesy Hailey Ice Plans for a new skating rink at Lyons Park in Hailey are on ice for the time being while proponents consider undertaking an environmental study on the proposed site, an old city trash dump.

Despite vocal support from valley residents, the future of a proposed new ice rink in the south valley remains uncertain.

At a meeting on Thursday, July 12, Blaine County Hearing Examiner Christopher Simms said he wasn't ready to grant a conditional-use permit to a group called Hailey Ice and its partner, the city of Hailey, to build an outdoor ice rink at Lion's Park. His decision hinged largely on environmental concerns regarding the proposed site and increased safety for pedestrians.

"Right now it's kind of gloom and doom," said Becki Keefer, parks project coordinator for the city of Hailey.

In an interview after the public hearing, Keefer said the construction of three recommended wells to test for contamination in the ground would cost an estimated $15,000. The county's concern for contamination stems from the fact that Lion's Park sits on the site of a dump closed more than 25 years ago, and that construction of the rink might release remaining toxins into the groundwater and the Big Wood River.

"If the rink is constructed without sampling efforts, as presently proposed, it would not appear to have a significant effect on contaminant migration," wrote Jane Rosen, an environmental engineer with Assessment and Compliance Services, in a report to the county. "However, future development plans may be affected and remediation efforts (if needed) may be more costly."

With the estimated cost of the rink reaching nearly $1 million, according to Hailey Ice board member Chris Benson, the cost of the wells appears a small percentage of the project. However, with large portions of the donations expected to come in the form of labor and materials, the amount for the wells becomes much more significant, especially for the non-profit Hailey Ice, which will have to rely on the benevolence of area residents. In addition, even if the wells were dug, the group is not guaranteed that the project would be approved.

"We cannot ignore these concerns despite the overwhelming community support," Simms said in a recent interview. "I remain confident that a conditional-use permit can be issued, but I am in a position of public trust, and it's important to take time and do things properly."

Also looming is the issue of danger to pedestrians, which Simms would like to see mitigated by improvements to the bridge on Croy Creek Road. Simms said that without a proper footpath, an ice-covered bridge would be hazardous for children walking across it at night.

The group also faces a number of less cost-prohibitive requirements, such as providing an architect's rendering and ensuring that the project conforms to the county's dark sky ordinance.

"Hailey Ice is extremely discouraged," Keefer said, adding that she understands it's Simms' responsibility to do an in-depth, risk-versus-benefits analysis.

Keefer said that if the wells and bridge prove too heavy a burden, the group has the option of removing its application to pursue a new site, though she did not indicate where that might be.

Simms continued the public hearing to an undetermined date, waiting for the group to provide him with further details on the project. However, Hailey Ice members expressed doubts that the two largest issues will be resolved before that meeting.

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