Wednesday, October 15, 2014

River Park at Sun Peak delayed for water study

Local conservancy groups partnering with BLM for yearlong assessment

Express Staff Writer

This rendering shows the latest master plan for the proposed River Park at Sun Peak north of Ketchum.
Courtesy graphic

    The controversial River Park at Sun Peak project in Hulen Meadows has been delayed another year due to a decision by the BLM to conduct a baseline water analysis.  The 300-plus-acre parcel of federal land north of Ketchum has been eyed by the city for years as a potential recreational park space.  
    The city of Ketchum expected a decision from the BLM this fall, an Oct. 11 news release stated, but the bureau wants to complete a baseline analysis of “river flow and existing conditions” from the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to Magic Reservoir before Ketchum conducts an environmental assessment.
    Kurt Wiedenmann, BLM branch chief of science and resources, said agency staff has had concerns with the overall conditions of the Bigwood River for a year now. Field visits demonstrated a problem with the 1990s-era drop structures at the proposed river park site and issues with sediment and overflow. The lack of adequate baseline info, Wiedenmann said, prompted a partnership between nonprofit Trout Unlimited, the BLM and the Wood River Land Trust to conduct a yearlong geomorphic assessment.
    Studying the river’s activity throughout the seasons will wrap up by the end of October 2015, Widenmann said. Trout Unlimited contracted with Biota Research and Consulting of Jackson, Wyo., for the study, he said, and regular updates on findings should be publically available. The BLM will resume talks with the city regarding the park project next year using the information it has gleaned from the study, according to Wiedenmann.  
    The River Park at Sun Peak would surround the Hulen Meadows pond, and Ketchum would become a steward for land administered by the BLM, should the project go through. However, the plan has been contested by several Hulen Meadows residents and requires an environmental assessment and go-aheads from other federal, state and local jurisdictions.
    The plans have morphed over the years, but most recently include building “drop structures” for kayakers, bathrooms, a parking lot with a pedestrian bridge and a picnic shelter. The city’s interest in the area started with a desire to build a municipal well at the federally managed Sun Peak day-use site south of the Hulen Meadows subdivision.
    The Hulen Meadow pond requires excavation to purge sediment and algae from its depths. The disagreement between some residents and the city stems from traffic concerns and potential adverse effects to local wildlife. Constructing the well, an additional parking lot and pedestrian bridges is a sore spot for Hulen Meadows homeowners with concerns about their water resources and potential gridlock from park recreationists.
    Proponents Jennifer Smith, director of Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department, and Scott Boettger, executive director of the Wood River Land Trust, have argued that the project would improve the environment and wouldn’t disturb animal habitats.
    “On the city’s behalf, the city wants to do what’s right for the river,” Smith said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not that we’re upset that a delay is caused by the BLM’s feeling that the river needs to be studied more. The river’s health and the safety of the community is a priority for the city.” 

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