Friday, August 17, 2007

Officials ponder future of Hulen Meadows Pond

Unclear who, if anyone, is responsible for dredging the pond

Sarah Michael

A meeting to discuss the future of the much-loved Hulen Meadows Pond north of Ketchum seemed to raise more questions than it answered Wednesday.

Gathered at the meeting of the Blaine County Commission at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey were representatives from various federal and state agencies, all of whom are connected to the issue in one way or another.

At its core, the Hulen Meadows Pond issue is about the inexorable natural processes ongoing since the Idaho Transportation Department built it on Bureau of Land Management property in 1990.

High springtime flows have been filling the artificial catch-basin with increasing levels of gravel and silt, just as its designers intended it to do. The pace of the process greatly increased following the spring 2006 floods when the Big Wood River deposited tons of river rock in the basin, resulting in a large gravel bar that bakes in the sun once spring runoff ebbs.

This summer, the newly formed gravel bar has cut off the majority of surface flows between the river and the pond, and that means water temperatures are rising.

The pond was designed to catch sediments as part of ITD's highway improvements in the late-1980s. While the pond has done what it was designed to do, it has also become a popular recreation amenity in a valley where slow-moving water is a scarcity.

And therein lies the impetus for Wednesday's meeting.

While the Blaine County Commissioners have signaled a willingness to look at ways of counteracting the pond's filling, they've also said the county cannot afford to go it alone. Tentative figures have estimated the cost of dredging the pond at somewhere between $125,000 and $150,000.

"It's time to get everyone's position on the record," Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael said at the beginning of Wednesday's meeting.

If the proponents of the proposed dredging were expecting strong statements of support from the agency representatives present at the meeting, they likely went away sorely disappointed.

Saying they don't have the funds necessary to help pay for such a project were representatives from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Transportation Department, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Blaine County Recreation District.

The lone possibility for providing some funding for the project, not including Blaine County, could come from the Idaho Flood Control District No. 9, of which local resident Bruce Tidwell is the commissioner.

Tidwell said that in talks with Terry Blau, stream protection specialist for the Idaho Department of Water Resources, they determined that some funding might be available for the project.

That announcement was music to the ears of Blaine County Administrator Mike McNees.

"I'm happy to hear there is somebody that may have some money," McNees said.

Another possible source of funding—though how deep those pockets are hasn't been declared—is private citizens.

Based on the comments of Jima Rice, a Hulen Meadows resident who is perhaps the most vocal supporter of dredging, that funding source could be significant. Just in the past few weeks, Rice said, she's gathered 705 signatures from people who support the restoration of the pond.

She said the body of water is too valuable a recreational amenity to let fill up with sediment. As proof of that, Rice noted how many people she saw using the pond throughout the day on July 4.

"I counted 200 people at the pond and I think 70 percent of them were kids," she said.

Rice disagrees with the ITD's assertion that they bear no responsibility to help maintain the pond because their relationship to it was only a temporary one when the highway was realigned in the late 1980s. Pointing to a section of a 1989 cooperative agreement the ITD signed along with other participants in the project, she noted that all of the cooperators agreed to work together to make arrangements for the maintenance of certain aspects of the project.

"ITD has major responsibility in this project," Rice said.

Progress was seemingly made on certain aspects of the issue, County Commissioner Tom Bowman said toward the end of the meeting.

One possibility is that a temporary diversion could be constructed to let fresh water pour into the pond until a more permanent solution is found.

"That is something we could look into," Bowman said.

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