Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ketchum opts to stay the course on whitewater park

City Council meeting draws crowd to talk about River Park at Sun Peak


     During a lengthy Ketchum City Council meeting Monday evening, Mayor Nina Jonas recommended that the Parks and Recreation Department “stay the course” on the proposed $2.6 million River Park at Sun Peak, despite objections from many potential neighbors in the Hulen Meadows subdivision.

     Council members assented, but no formal vote was taken.

     In a council chamber filled with community members, Director of Parks and Recreation Jen Smith presented an update on the process to bring a whitewater and fishing park to the Hulen Meadows area that’s been under way since 2008. She said the project would help restore the river and provide flood mitigation, recreation and fire safety benefits.

     Plans call for installing a fishing and viewing pier, a picnic shelter, drinking fountain, restrooms, shade sails, and a pedestrian bridge. The Big Wood River would offer play features for kayakers.

     In 2008, Ketchum applied to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a Recreation and Public Purposes Patent that would transfer ownership of the land to the city. The BLM requires an environmental assessment before the city can take ownership.

     Smith said completion of the environmental assessment is about a month away. She said that even though BLM officials can’t at this point give an indication of whether they will approve the assessment, they encouraged the city to continue moving forward.

     In late 2012, the BLM didn’t have the money to fund the environmental study. However, the city provided $50,000 through donations from the nonprofit Wood River Land Trust for a contractor that replaced the BLM team that would normally review the study.

     A mayor’s taskforce, composed of Jonas, Smith and city attorneys, met in Boise last week and recommended that the city continue the environmental review process required by the National Environmental Policy Act. So far, $17,000 has been spent of the $50,000 that was provided to the BLM for the environmental assessment. Whatever money is left will be returned to the city and its donors.

     Despite stating that she’d like the process to continue, Jonas admitted she is worried about the project’s cost.      

     “We’re trying to manage private dollars and public dollars, which all belong to the people in our community and making sure we have an [idea] of where the money is going,” she said.

     Jonas said most river parks elsewhere have title to the land, which is not yet the case here. She said other areas don’t have an extra layer of government to go through, which is making the process a little more complicated.

     In response to comments from residents of Hulen Meadows during a public hearing, Councilman Baird Gourlay called for more discussions with residents. He said that location of a well on the property is on a city “wish list,” and that its inclusion in the park’s plans simply allows the city to study it.

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