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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of October 16 - 22, 2002


Old sewage plant 
a new Hailey park?

City, Land Trust consider joint effort

Express Staff Writer

Staff for the Hailey Public Works Department and the non-profit Wood River Land Trust are trying to determine whether they can proceed with a joint project to convert a defunct sewage-treatment facility in West Hailey into a public park.

The proposed restoration of the city’s decommissioned Riverside Treatment Plant was endorsed by the Hailey City Council last winter, but the project is currently tabled, mired in a mix of conflicting interests in how the sensitively located site should look and function.

"Our most recent plan is on hold until we can exactly determine what we can do there," Hailey Public Works manager Ray Hyde said last week.

At issue is the fate of an approximately four-acre property on the west bank of the Big Wood River, adjacent to Hailey’s Heagle Park and Della View subdivision.

The property lies south of the city’s Lion’s Park, which is already the site of cooperative efforts by the land trust and the city to restore degraded areas in and around the Big Wood River.

The two parties last winter proposed the work along the river as a two-part plan—collectively called the Hailey Greenway Project—to restore a continuous corridor of riparian areas between Lion’s Park and the Riverside Treatment Plant. The state Department of Environmental Quality granted the parties $195,000 for the project, and the City of Hailey subsequently agreed to contribute an additional $159,000 of so-called "in-kind" matching funds, essentially committing to provide equipment and staff but no public money.

While the Lion’s Park project continues to proceed with the support of city, county and various other state and federal agencies that hold an interest in the river, the proposed restoration of the sewer plant has encountered numerous stumbling blocks—perhaps jeopardizing some or all of the grant money.

Stef Frenzl, stewardship coordinator for the Wood River Land Trust and a leading proponent of the project, said conditions of the grant require efforts to improve the quality of river water and groundwater at both focal points, Lion’s Park and the sewer plant.

"If we don’t do the sewer-site project, we probably can’t go forward with the Lion’s Park project," he said.

The city could not simply fill in the depression left at the sewer site with soil and sod and remain eligible to keep the grant money, he noted. In addition, because the area lies in a floodplain, any design for the restoration of the sewer plant must include provisions to mitigate flooding in high water years.

Hyde and Frenzl initially proposed to city council members that the sewer plant site be converted into a public park that included a deep-water pond linked to the river, plus access for fishermen and other members of the public. The project was proposed to emulate a successful riverside restoration project at Hulen Meadows, north of Ketchum.

However, after the council endorsed the plan, Hyde and Frenzl discovered that state Fish and Game opposed the idea of linking a pond to the Big Wood River. The city would likely be forced to trade some of its water rights to offset any loss—perceived or real—that would result from river water being diverted into the restored area.

Facing a myriad of legal complications with the proposed pond design, Hyde and Frenzl last month put forth a significantly altered plan for the Riverside Plant, intended to restore the site to its natural state while also meeting conditions of the grant and interests of agencies.

The new design called for converting the area to a seasonal pond and wetlands that would be fed by groundwater only. The pond would likely be the site of some recreation, but would fluctuate in depth, and be unusable by the general public part of the year.

Council members hearing the new plan on Sept. 23 firmly opposed the concept, and tabled the proposal while asking Hyde and Frenzl to research other options.

"I hate surprises," Councilman Don Keirn said at the meeting. "I didn’t vote for a big hole in the ground."

Hyde last week said he is actively working to get a final determination as to whether the city could implement a plan to connect a pond to the river without giving up any significant water rights or encountering opposition from state Fish and Game.

Hyde said the city has already spent nearly $200,000 of "in-kind" funds on the Hailey Greenway Project, and will make every effort to implement a plan to restore the sewer-plant site within parameters of the DEQ grant.

"I do have some grave concerns," he said. "We could be on the line for a lot of money."

Hyde said it may be another six to eight weeks before the city determines what would be the best course of action, and will then present his findings to council members.



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