Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quigley water right appeals to city

Developer says denial by Hailey would end Nordic skiing access

Express Staff Writer

The Hailey City Council called for research into the value of an 1880 water right that it could receive as part of an annexation agreement that could bring 440 homes into Quigley Canyon.

The council will hold a public hearing on the water right, at an undetermined date, to present its potential value to the city.

About 40 people showed up Monday to speak for and against the annexation of Quigley Canyon—east of the city—mostly calling for the city to deny it. They cited traffic concerns, the glut of homes already on the market and potential costs to the city associated with the development.

"My gut says we should not annex," Councilwoman Martha Burke said.

Although the 914-acre development, proposed by Dave Hennessy, could take decades to build out, the council voted to focus immediately on Hennessy's offer to give the "senior" water right to the city as part of the annexation request.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Councilman Fritz Haemmerle said.

Haemmerle is an attorney with expertise in water rights who last year opposed a ruling made by the Idaho Department of Water Resources enforcing minimum streamflow requirements in the Big Wood River. The ruling set limits on the sales and transfers of downstream water rights to cities like Hailey, which Haemmerle said needs senior rights to reduce the possibility of curtailments of municipal irrigation.

Such curtailments, due to "calls" from downstream agricultural irrigators with more senior water rights than Hailey, will become more likely, said Haemmerle, when "conjunctive management" comes to town.

Conjunctive management practices, expected to come to the Wood River Valley within a few years, will manage older surface rights along with junior well sources, favoring senior surface water rights over municipal groundwater sources during times of water scarcity.

The water right Hennessy proposes to give the city has a priority date of April 15, 1880, making it one of the earliest water rights in Blaine County. It has a diversion rate of 2.36 cubic feet per second and is appurtenant to 276.5 acres.

The council directed city staff to find out how much of the water right would be left after Quigley's ongoing irrigation needs are met, and to make sure the water right could be transferred to the city.

The city, if it took ownership of the right, would likely transfer the water to the Big Wood River during a "call" from downstream senior water rights users as a means of mitigating against a curtailment order from the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

The latest version of Hennessy's annexation request would cluster most of the homes in the development densely at the mouth of the canyon. Unlike an earlier development proposal, it does not include a golf course.

The developer is offering to sell land at the mouth of the canyon to the Blaine County School District for construction of an elementary school adjacent to Wood River High School.

Hennessy said that if his request is approved, he would prohibit in perpetuity the option of building homes in environmentally sensitive areas above Quigley Pond, but that he would sell the adjacent Deadman Gulch, which could be developed under county zoning allowances. Both areas have been deemed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to be important wintering ranges for elk and deer.

Hennessy said that if his request to develop in the city is not granted, and he then develops the canyon under county zoning allowances, Nordic skiing opportunities that have been managed by the Blaine County Recreation District for eight years would come to a halt.

"In the county it will be totally different," he said. "There will larger lots, fences and no recreation."

Tom Bergin, Blaine County director of land use and building services, said after the meeting that only one home per five acres would be allowed in the canyon under county zoning allowances, or 182 homes. He said the county would recommend pushing those homes close to the mouth of the canyon toward Hailey.

As the City Council explores water rights issues associated with the proposed development, the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission will review many other details of the annexation request that the commission studied two years ago. The council remanded these details to the P&Z for review because the latest version of the proposed development was substantially different than the previous version.

Tony Evans:

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