Walker Sand and Gravel will be allowed to expand its riverbed excavation site, the county announced Tuesday.
The company, located three miles south of Bellevue, applied for a permit to remove up to 75,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel from the bed of the Big Wood River. The excavation would create a channel about 12 feet deep and 1,160 feet wide, according to a county staff report.
"The application is not a gravel-mining operation, it is a complete disemboweling of the historic river channel," said county resident Rich McIntyre in a written public comment.
Walker Sand and Gravel owner Jim Walker said he needs to expand his excavation operations.
"Why are we expanding? To stay in business!" Walker said in an interview. "If we can't extract any more gravel out of this, we'll have to shut down."
Walker said that there is only so much product that can be mined from any given section of a riverbed.
"It's not really a renewable resource," he said.
Walker said that even though business has fallen off with the drop in valley construction caused by the current recession, there is still a demand for sand and gravel.
The county staff report says this part of the river has traditionally been dry, other than at times of spring runoff.
The diversion, unfortunately, may send overflow runoff closer to private property, a concern County Commissioner Larry Schoen asked Walker to consider during a hearing Tuesday.
"I'd be happy to have waterfront property," Walker joked.
Schoen laughed, but added, "It's a mixed bag, being on the river."
The permit granted by the commissioners contains a condition that Walker Sand and Gravel relocate and transplant any vegetation removed during excavation. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game chose not to comment on impacts to the area.
Excavation would not be allowed to occur in flowing water.
The permit will be subject to a public hearing before it is renewed in 10 years. The commissioners agreed that they wanted the permit to come before the board so it could evaluate the impact on the river, and Commissioner Tom Bowman said he thought 10 years was soon enough.
"It gives the applicant some assurance in his investment," Bowman said.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com