Wednesday, November 16, 2011

County studies Little Wood mystery

Excavation conducted without state, federal, county permits

Express Staff Writer

An alleged illegal berm and excavation in the Little Wood River raised concerns over possible violations of county, federal and state laws during a meeting of the Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday.

"It's a lot of work—a lot of work without a permit," said Megan Stelma, code compliance specialist for the county.

According to Stelma and the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Flood Control District No. 2 commissioners ordered excavation along three miles of the stream channel.

District No. 2 follows the Little Wood River around Carey and is charged with preventing floods and flood damage for its residents. It is governed by three commissioners appointed by the Department of Water Resources.

Carey residents Greg Mann and Creg Hansen are the current commissioners, with a third, Mike Adamson, having recently resigned.

Stelma said the project would have required permits from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Blaine County, none of which were applied for.

Stelma and Aaron Golart, state stream channel coordinator for the department, said the work consists mainly of excavation of fill and vegetation from the streambed below the high-water mark.

Stelma said the disturbance did not span the entire three miles.

"Every so often, you'll see a disturbance, then nothing, then a pocket of disturbance," she said.

Golart said the excavation likely would have been permitted had the district applied for a permit. However, he said the 300-foot-long berm, which rises roughly 10 feet above the channel's base, would not have been, as it blocks a channel that diverts water during high-water season, thereby preventing floods.

"That's going to have to be addressed," he said. "Construction of a levy to block off high-flow channels is something that is not generally permitted. You want the water to migrate laterally, and you want to relieve the pressure."

One of the major problems with both the fill and the berm is the possibility of erosion. As the water hits the loose fill on the side of the banks as well as the loose fill on the berm, sediment could be washed downstream toward Silver Creek, in possible violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Stelma said the Little Wood Reservoir upstream of the river is 75 percent full, and if drained, could pose serious erosion concerns.

"It could be a big mess," she said during the meeting. "Once the water hits this ... it's all loose, it's all different sizes of cobble[stone], it's all going to wash away."

In interviews, Stelma said she isn't sure why the commissioners didn't apply for permits for the work, and Golart said he believed there was some miscommunication among the commissioners as to whether a permit was actually required. Both Golart and Stelma said they had been working with Hansen to rectify the situation.

Flood District Commissioner Mann said he thought work on the Little Wood did not need a permit because the stream is currently dry.

"There's always been a difference in the Little Wood," he said. "I always thought there was a certain amount of exemption."

Mann said he did not know why the berm was built, who was contracted to do the work or even specifically what work was carried out, as he was not consulted.

"I was kind of bypassed," he said. "There was some confusion among the members. Creg Hansen was moving ahead on that, and didn't really tell me anything about it."

When contacted by the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday, Hansen denied knowledge of the project.

Stelma said the department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Blaine County would work together to solve the violation.

"We'll come up with a solution that tries to address all the concerns," Golart said.

He added that it was likely the district would need to clean up the area where the berm is, and is working with the commissioners toward a plan for voluntary restoration of the area.

Stelma said in a later interview that the county will follow the department' lead in whatever they decide.

"This is going to be led by IDWR, and we are going to follow their advice," Stelma said.

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