Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ketchum to go after BLM land

New well envisioned for one of two parcels

Express Staff Writer

After originally broaching the issue in April, interim City Administrator Jim Jaquet once again presented the Ketchum City Council with a proposal to acquire two parcels of land from the Bureau of Land Management, one of which would include the Hulen Meadows Pond.

At a meeting on Monday, Jaquet received full support to move forward with an application for a Recreation and Public Purposes Project, the cost of which could amount to $15,000.

With official support, the city, in coordination with the Wood River Land Trust, will apply for a patent or long-term lease on a 217-acre parcel extending from Sun Peak Day Use Area to the southern edge of Lake Creek, including the pond, north of Ketchum. A second 164-acre parcel, which would be part of the same application, would lie west of Atkinson Park, at the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and the Big Wood River.

The application also includes a land exchange with the Blue Canyon Corp., whose property Jaquet did not identify.

The city's portion of the application cost would go towards a required environmental site assessment, biological evaluation and a cultural resource survey.

A second private property owner could also be included in a separate land exchange, which would lower Ketchum's costs, Jaquet said.

Jaquet recommended that the city use the city's Water Capital Improvement Fund to finance its share of the application costs, as there is the potential of constructing a water well in the Sun Peak Day Use Area.

Ketchum Utilities Superintendent Steve Hansen said the city needs another well, since demand would not be met if the city's largest well were rendered inoperable in an emergency.

"Our department and engineers have determined that this is the best location for a new well, as it's closest to our most upstream reservoir," Hansen said in an interview.

Hansen said a new well would cost an estimated $900,000 and would use the city water rights to pump groundwater from the Big Wood Aquifer. He said impact on the downstream level of the river would have to be analyzed.

In addition to a new well, the northern parcel in question also includes the site of the city's two-million-gallon reservoir, the land for which is currently leased from the BLM for $5,500 per year. If the acquisition is successful, the city would no longer be required to carry this expense, though it would be responsible for maintenance of the Sun Peak recreation area.

During April's meeting on the issue, Jaquet said the advantage of such a project would be to give a sense of permanence to the recreational activities that already take place at those sites. He added that a patent would be preferable, as it would not cost the city any money and would not have a termination date like a lease does.

In addition, the Wood River Land Trust, represented at the meeting by Robyn Goldman, would try to raise the necessary funding to restore the Hulen Meadows Pond. Dug in 1990 as part of a highway construction project, the pond became a matter of controversy after it began to fill with gravel and local residents asked that it be dredged. There is confusion regarding responsibility for the pond's maintenance, an issue that came to light last summer.

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