Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hailey approves Croy sewer extension

Developers may be required to build public hot springs

Express Staff Writer

Councilman Fritz Haemmerle continues to oppose sewer lines in Croy Canyon and calls for public access to hot springs in Democrat Gulch Photo by Mountain Express

Hailey Mayor Rick Davis opened up Monday night's City Council meeting by inviting public opinion on the city's decision-making process.

"Decisions are made by those who show up," he said during his opening remarks. "And decision-makers can be influenced by those who show up."

But for many individuals in the council chambers who came to question the city's plans to extend sewer services two miles west into Croy Canyon, it appears they may have showed up too late.

After reviewing a newly formed policy for extending city sewer services outside city limits, the council approved sewer extension to accommodate a 115-residence development called Spring Canyon Ranch in Democrat Gulch, in Blaine County. The proposed homes would be heated by geothermal waters in the canyon once used to supply hot water for the Hotel Hiawatha pool in downtown Hailey.

"The driving force behind this (sewer extension) from the beginning has been Croy Canyon Ranch eldercare facility," said City Councilman Don Keirn.

Mary Ann Mix, treasurer of the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation, spoke on behalf of the planned eldercare facility, to which the developers of Spring Canyon Ranch have agreed to give 10 acres of land and $1 million. The foundation has stated it hopes to raise $5 million through the sale of the existing Blaine Manor senior center on Main Street in Hailey and use the proceeds to build a new care facility in Croy Canyon. Twelve million dollars of the project's $32 million budget is yet to be raised.

Mix said Monday that negotiations for a city sewer line between Croy Canyon Ranch and the city began three years ago when former Mayor Susan McBryant offered to help acquire a $500,000 Idaho Community Development block grant to run the sewer line for the eldercare facility.

Spring Canyon Ranch developers then joined forces with the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation, eventually sweetening the deal with the city by offering $750,000 in cash, an expanded bridge to carry the effluent over the Big Wood River and increased hook-up fees for the future residents of Spring Canyon Ranch.

Blaine County School District is also now eyeing the mouth of Croy Canyon for a new elementary school, which would be made possible by the sewer line extension. Alternate sites for the school, planned for 2014, includes land south of Bellevue and in Carey.

Even those objecting to the sewer line extension Monday evening—which included members of Citizens for Smart Growth, the South Central Health District and several citizens concerned with issues of water safety, water quantity and sprawl—expressed unanimous support for the proposed eldercare facility.

Councilman Fritz Haemmerle, who came onto the council earlier this month openly opposing the extension of city services into Croy Canyon, expressed wariness about the council's decision.

"This is the best possible reason to extend services, but it is also a kind of benevolent blackmail," he said. "Now every single developer is going to come to you now with a plan to help the police, or some other worthy cause."

The council's decision included a provision that if the eldercare facility is not built, Spring Canyon Ranch will be required to fund construction of a publicly accessible, hot-springs pool. However, the provision did not include exactly what would be built or how much money the developers would be required to donate.

The call for public access to the hot springs in Democrat Gulch began when Hailey resident and activist Kelly Weston wrote a letter to the editor of the Idaho Mountain Express earlier this month, expressing deep regret for the privatization of hot springs in the region. His sentiments were shared by members of the council, including Carol Brown and Haemmerle.

"We've lost Clarendon Hot Springs, Democrat, and Bald Mountain in Ketchum," said Haemmerle.

According to Councilwoman Brown, Spring Canyon Ranch developers have never offered public hot springs access as part of their plans with the city.

"We have done studies and are still not sure of the extent of the resource," said Spring Canyon Ranch developer Mark Meyers. "But we intend to use it to reduce the energy costs of the homes we build there. It will heat the homes and go right back into the aquifer. This is a more responsible use of the resource than a public pool, frankly."

Spring Canyon Ranch will ultimately need approval from Blaine County.

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