FREMONT COUNTY, ID. — The Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) has allocated $400,000 of its $1.8 million budget to study the feasibility of building a new dam in the Teton River Canyon.

An earthen dam that once held back the river failed on June 5, 1976, killing 11 people, wiping out herds of livestock, and rewarding $300 million in damage claims to people in communities downstream. The news that another dam is being considered has conservation groups buzzing, as well as people who lived through the 1976 disaster. There is even a Facebook group — Do NOT Rebuild the Teton Dam.

The water budget will also fund a study that could lead to raising the Minidoka Dam another five feet so its reservoir can store more water.

Both dam projects are part of that water officials first dubbed the “Upper Snake River Management Plan.” Now they call the Henry’s Fork Basin Special Water Study.

The IDWR presented the plan to the Legislature in February this year, but back then, the Teton Dam was not in the plan. The dam was in a 2007 Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) report that identified 73 potential water storage sites in the Upper Snake River Basin and listed the Minidoka Dam enlargement and the Teton Dam reconstruction as “potential large scale storage projects that warrant consideration.”

IDWR estimates a new Teton Dam would create more than 300,000 acre feet of storage and provide power and flood control benefits. The dam would cost an estimated $435 million to build. It would be concrete.

The Minidoka Dam upgrades are estimated to cost around $100 million and would increase the reservoir’s storage by 50,000 acre feet.

Conservation groups are just beginning to process the news about the proposed Teton Dam and are expressing concern about flooding the beautiful Teton Canyon, a wildlife and recreational paradise to many residents and visitors.

Congressman Leo J. Ryan, of California, called the Teton Dam’s break “one of the most colossal and dramatic failures in our national history.” According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the 270-foot-deep reservoir took almost eight months to fill but drained in less than six hours, impacting the canyon and all living organisms in the river and its tributaries and even in the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.

The Bureau of Reclamation was blamed for the dam’s collapse. An independent council found that the location BOR chose for the structure set it up to fail.

The 2007 IDWR report notes that, when considering dam reconstruction, “overcoming negative perceptions may be a challenge.”

Henry’s Fork Special Study Announcement – April, 2010
The Bureau of Reclamation and the State of Idaho, in collaboration with a stakeholder working group, will conduct a special study on water resources in the Henry’s Fork River basin to develop alternatives to improve water supply conditions in the Eastern Snake Plain aquifer (ESPA) and Upper Snake River basin in accordance with the ESPA Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan (CAMP).
The special study area is upstream of the Henry’s Fork River’s confluence with the Snake River and includes the North Fork of the Upper Snake River, Fall River, and Teton River watersheds. It is also situated above part of the ESPA.
The special study will identify opportunities for development of water supplies (i.e., above-ground storage, aquifer storage) and improvement of water management (i.e., conservation measures, optimization of resources) while sustaining environmental quality. Alternatives will be developed in accordance with the managed aquifer recharge program of the Idaho Water Resource Board and the goals of the ESPA CAMP, and in consideration of the environmental impacts to the entire Snake River basin. The objectives of the special study are to assist future planning efforts and to provide specialized information that can be used for future decision-making processes at the state and local levels.
Federal water development projects on the Snake River above Milner Dam near Burley, Idaho provide full or supplemental water supply to more than one million acres of irrigated land. Over 1.4 million acres are irrigated by privately developed irrigation systems from natural flows in the Snake River and its tributaries or groundwater from the ESPA.
The analysis of water supply and storage will involve identification and evaluation of watershed hydrology and potential onstream and offstream storage sites. The focus will be on the availability, characterization, and quantification of the natural hydrology of the basin, including:
• seasonal volume of runoff and stored water available;
• surface water/groundwater interactions;
• irrigated agricultural areas;
• instream and offstream water uses;
• irrigation water distribution facilities and their operation; and
• the current characteristics and quality of riparian habitat.
The special study is expected to take two years to complete.

The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has many pressing issues on its plate. Here’s a short list:

• Regulating motorized watercraft on waterways in the county, with the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River the most controversial water body;

• Regulating the vacation cabin industry and home businesses;

• Passing a new development code that regulates land use throughout the county;

• Enforcing that code;

• Meeting federal and state regulations for ground and surface water protection by managing landfills and sewer systems so they do not pollute the soil and water;

• Keeping the county’s roads and bridges safe and deciding which roads the county can afford to maintain.

• Managing around 130 employees and all the publicly owned equipment they use.

We often hear county leaders say they have a hard time making decisions because pubic opinion is divided and they cannot please everyone. We also hear them attempt to define opposing groups by such criteria as those who live here year round as opposed to summer people, or farmers vs. business owners, or newcomers vs. people whose ancestors were homesteaders.

It gets pretty confusing trying to decide which group to please but it doesn’t have to be that way. State statutes require counties to follow state code when they handle many issues, including protecting water, soil, clean air, and property rights. Whenever necessary, the state code is based on federal laws such as the U.S. Clean Water Act and U. S. Clean Air Act. It is ironic that Idahoans as a rule say they dislike federal and state regulations — and regulations in general, when the state keeps a very tight rein on local governments, allowing them to choose local options (home rule) only rarely and by special elections.

Idaho counties and cities are required to write comp plans and development codes that meet state statutes, most notably Title 67, Chapter 65, the Local Land Use Planning Act.

In the area of land use planning, rather than fret about which special interest group is going to be upset about a regulation, the BOCC ought to see if the regulation or policy meets state code.

The Local Land Use Planning Act’s stated purpose is ‘to promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the people of the state of Idaho’ by addressing 12 areas:

Protecting property rights while making accommodations for other necessary types of development such as low-cost housing and mobile home parks.

Ensuring that adequate public facilities and services are provided to the people at reasonable cost.

Ensuring that the economy of the state and localities is protected.

Ensuring that the important environmental features of the state and localities are protected.

Encouraging the protection of prime agricultural, forestry, and mining lands for production of food, fiber, and minerals.

Encouraging urban and urban-type development within incorporated cities.

Avoiding undue concentration of population and overcrowding of land.

Ensuring that the development on land is commensurate with the physical characteristics of the land.

Protecting life and property in areas subject to natural hazards and disasters.

Protecting fish, wildlife, and recreation resources.

Avoiding undue water and air pollution.

Allowing local school districts to participate in the community planning and development process so as to address public school needs and impacts on an ongoing basis.

Most issues are settled in favor of one user group because that group’s documentation of doing the least harm, or no harm, prevails. But there are issues where both sides believe they meet the act’s criteria and can prove they are right, using scientific research, economic studies, or plain old common sense. In these circumstances, policies would have to give equal treatment to both groups.

Using a buzzword created by Washington D.C. spin masters, the BOCC said this week that motorized recreation on the river is a ‘social,’ not an ‘ecological’ issue.

Their role is not to define the issue in either of those terms, but to weigh the validity of their motorized recreation policy against state statutes.

Henry’s Fork Foundation has a well-researched study that shows that fly-fishing hugely benefits the area’s economy. Motorboat users have no documentation that they benefit the economy. All the public has been told is that some guy in St. Anthony was cruising around the river in his motorboat, and when he was told it was illegal to do so, an old county ordinance was found that shows that motorboats are regulated in only two areas of the county, and they’re both in Island Park.

Now this one motorboater has attracted a small number of supporters, but nowhere near the number of people in the fly- fishing community of year round residents, summer residents, and vacationers.

The fly-fishing community can show that its industry is in sync with several areas of the Local Land Use Planning Act and the Comprehensive State Water Plan (which there is no space here to address this week). The Henry’s Fork Foundation has spent 26 years working to keep the river healthy for the fish, fish habitat and other natural resources, and for anglers. There is no promotor counterpart in Fremont County.

County commissioners say they consider the opinions of people who say they do not like regulations. Most people sympathize with that approach, but it is unrealistic because the BOCC is all about regulations — that’s how it is in Idaho. Reread the above list of issues the BOCC is dealing with. Everything on the list involves regulations.

If the motorized watercraft community has done anything to enhance and preserve the river and its fisheries, and to ensure that the county is following the Land Use Planning Act, let’s see it. Let’s come up with waterways regulations that are fair, thoughtful, and based on solid documentation.

Elizabeth Laden
ipnews@mac.com

By ELIZABETH LADEN

FREMONT COUNTY, ID. — Allowing motorized watercraft on the famed Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is a “social issue, not an ecological issue.” That’s according to Fremont County Commissioner Lee Miller. Miller shared this opinion with Commission Chairman Paul Romrell and Commissioner Skip Hurt in a regular commission meeting Monday, October 25, in a discussion that followed a by Steve Trafton, Executive Director of the Henry’s Fork Foundation.

Trafton had presented the commission with a draft waterways ordinance he wrote that regulates motorized watercraft on the river. But Trafton and around 20 of his supporters left the meeting room before the commissioners launched into a discussion of the ordinance — and decided to make a decision on how to deal with it “soon.”

Trafton said his proposed ordinance is one and a half pages long and offers a simple and balanced approach to the motorized issue. He proposed that no motorized watercraft be allowed from the river’s source in Island Park to the Fun Farm diversion except the stretch of river from the Mack’s Inn Bridge to the Trestle Bridge. Motors no larger than 15 mph would be allowed in that stretch. There would be no motor restrictions on Henry’s Lake or Island Park Reservoir.

Below the Fun Farm diversion to the county line, motors of up to 15 mph would be allowed. No motors would be allowed on any of the river’s tributaries.

Trafton said the Henry’s Fork Foundation is weighing in on the issue because for 26 years the organization has spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars working for the river.

Trafton also said he has analyzed the public comments made in hearings about the motorized issue before the county’s Waterways Committee and before the Board of County Commissioners. He said 83 people who spoke at the hearings were either against all motorized watercraft on the river, or wanted it strictly limited; 23 were in favor of no restrictions or limited restrictions; 18 were “difficult to classify.”

He said his proposed ordinance “strikes a balance between the two camps,” and “is in the best interest of the river, not any user group.”

In the discussion that followed immediately after Trafton and his supporters left the room, and later in the day at the end of the commission meeting, the commissioners all agreed that they do not think motorized watercraft should be allowed in Harriman Sate Park and the upper river in Island Park. Romrell said he does not think anyone will motor on this stretch now because of the cold weather.

Romrell said he does not understand why Trafton supports motorized watercraft between Mack’s Inn Bridge and Trestle Bridge, “an area that is considered to be one of the most pristine on the river.”

Consensus among the commissioners was that no scientific proof has been presented showing that motors are harmful to the river.

Romrell said many seemingly negative events have occurred on the Henry’s Fork, yet it has survived and continues to be internationally known as a pristine river.

He said in 1959, the Madison Canyon earthquake muddied water at Big Springs, and it eventually cleared up. DDT was sprayed throughout the National Forest where the river flows in the 1960’s and 1970’s to kill insects that were destroying trees, and the river (bird species) recovered. “We poisoned the water to get rid of chubs, and the river survived. Logging and logging roads caused sediment to go into the river, and it survived,” he said.

Romrell said the motorized watercraft issue has been one of the most divisive topics ever seen in the county. He said he thinks more “citizens, as opposed to summer people and vacationers, support multiple use of the river.” He said one family of kayakers he knows told him motorboats do not disturb them because they think everyone has a right to use the river. He also said people have told him they don’t want more regulations, and “they ask why do we discriminate.”

In response to people who have worried that motorboats would harm the river’s trumpeter swan population, Miller and Hurt both said motors may be beneficial because they would haze the swans off the river and cause them to look for other areas to winter. Miller said he thinks it would help because of studies he read noting that there are not enough aquatic plants to feed the 4,000 trumpeter swans that winter in southeast Idaho.

Hurt also said the issue is divided “between residents who pay taxes versus people from out of state who fish the river two weeks out of the year.” And, he questioned the impact that the fly-fishing community says their sport has on the economy. He said he has heard the river generated $30 million a year, but has also heard $50 million a year.

All thee commissioners also said they do not own motorboats.

Just before the meeting ended, Romrell said the commissioners would decide “soon” if they will hold a hearing on Trafton’s proposed ordinance or if they will send the ordinance to the Planning and Zoning Commission for consideration and a hearing. He said the standard procedure is that P&Z would hold a hearing, since the ordinance would be an amendment to the development code. Earlier in the day when Romrell also covered this topic, he said Trafton would probably have to excuse himself from a discussion if the P&Z were to hold a hearing. Trafton is a P&Z commissioner.

The Henry’s Fork Fondation is based in Ashton. Fo rmore info, go to henrysfork.org .

HFF on Monday’s agenda

October 20, 2010

FREMONT COUNTY — Henry’s Fork Foundation Executive Director, Steve Trafton, is on the Fremont County Commission’s regular meeting agenda on Monday, October 25. He has been allotted 20 minutes and the topic is listed, “Waterways Ordinance.”

October 20, 2010 Report

October 20, 2010

From Steve Trafton, Henry’s Fork Foundation Executive Director

“I just returned from the most recent drought management planning meeting. Despite a good reservoir carryover level going into the fall, we made the decision to reduce flows, probably starting today, because:

1.  The prolonged warm weather this fall meant that the demand for water continued longer than would normally be the case, cutting into the carryover in reservoirs, and:

2. Base flows into Island Park Reservoir (ie. spring-fed stream flows) are down, meaning that accumulating storage water in the reservoir takes longer.

With this in mind, we continued the drought management pattern that has been successful in recent years, namely reducing flows in the warmer, early fall months in order to raise them during the winter months. This  provides the greatest amount of water possible to juvenile trout when they most need it.

Water management below the dam is now scheduled to follow this pattern:

1. Reduction to about 100 cfs over the next three days.

2. 100 cfs until about 1 December.

3.  180 cfs from about 1 December forward.

This scenario is based only on the current  reservoir level and predicted inflows, and does not take snowpack into account. Adjustments to this plan that may be made in response to changing circumstances should (barring unforeseen circumstances) be improvements (ie. increased flows below the dam) from a fisheries perspective.

Saving fish

October 20, 2010

Volunteers and employees from the Henry’s Fork Foundation, The Trouthunter Lodge, the Henry’s Fork Master Naturalists, and Fall River Rural Electric Co-op saved thousands of fish in the Henry’s Fork below Island Park Dam this week. The fish would have died from lack of oxygen while work was being done to replace an aeration system that helps fish survival. HFF has long worked with officials that control the dam to protect the river’s world class fishery. Carlos Chavez, a Trouthunter guide, holds one of the many huge rainbow trout that were saved. Tyler Treece, another Trouthunter guide, is on his right. Behind them are Jon Lewis, Trouthunter guide, and HFF volunteer Mary Mullen.
JOHN LOSCH photo

FREMONT COUNTY — Fremont County Freecycle invites all residents and second homeowners to work together to help reduce what goes into our county’s two landfills.

The Freecycle Network™ is a grassroots, nonprofit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills.

Founded in May 2003, the Freecycle Network is made up of more than 4,000 groups with a total of more than 5 million members across the globe. Membership is free. You sign up on line and when you have something you no longer need or want, instead of throwing it away, you e-mail the group and offer it to whomever is interested. Or, if there is something you need, you ask the group if anyone has it to give away.

Everything posted must be free, legal, and appropriate for all ages. To learn about items being given away or sought, you must be a member of the group.

Island Park resident Elizabeth Laden founded Fremont County Freecycle in the sumer of 2008, and is ready to add your name to the network.

To date, the Freecycle network has kept more than 300 tons a day out of landfills! This amounts to four times the height of Mt. Everest in the past year alone, when stacked in garbage trucks! By giving freely with no strings attached, members of The Freecycle Network help instill a sense of generosity of spirit as they strengthen local community ties and promote environmental sustainability and reuse. People from all walks of life have joined together to turn trash into treasure.

Fremont County Freecycle had found new owners for computers, televisions, exercise equipment, appliances, fabric, hot tubs, clothing, snowmobiles, and more.

To join, send an e-mail to FremontCountyFreecycle-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

A mystery group of people can apparently pull more strings in Fremont County than the good people who show up at formal and informal hearings or send letters and e-mails expressing their views to the county commissioners.

These mystery people do not have to go on record stating their names and addresses and expressing what they feel to their fellow citizens. All they have to do is call one of the commissioners and tell them what they want — and they get it.

According to Commission Chairman Paul Romrell, these people have told him the Henry’s Fork should be allowed to ‘regulate itself’ when it comes to motorized watercraft. In other words, we are to assume that people will not motor big boats into shallow areas where spawning beds could be wiped out. They will not attempt to motor in dangerous areas where there are rocks, tree stumps, and sand bars. They will not send large waves across the stream to erode banks, and they will not run past any of the many riverfront homes that owners bought thinking they would always live near a quiet river. No gas or oil will leak from their boats that will poison any species.

Romrell also apparently agrees with these unnamed people when they say fly-fishermen and people with drift boats and other non-motorized crafts have ‘unfair’ access to the river – the river should be open to all groups. So now we must be ‘politically correct’ when we manage the river, so we do not offend anyone — so what if the multimillion-dollar fishing economy suffers?

If these people are a majority, why was Romrell defeated in the May primary election?

Romrell and the other commissioners have flip-flopped on other conservation and land use issues. Those few mystery people have their attention and they will not recognize the majority of people who want limited use of motorized watercraft on the river. It was rude of Romrell to refuse to let Steve Trafton, executive director of the Henry’s Fork Foundation, speak Monday. Romrell has been just as rude to other special interest group representatives. Why is he so afraid to have a gentlemanly exchange with another citizen?

The commissioners ignore people who ask for land use planning that allows open space and scenic views, and clean water and air. They pay no mind to people who want communities planned so people can live in them, not argue constantly about property rights because the commission allows industrial and commercial uses to infringe on residential areas. And look at how their flip-flopping has made a mess out of the vacation cabin rental issue and frustrated Island Park so much that residents here are working to create their own sewer district.

The interim planner, Stephen Loosli, and his assistant, Joshua Chase, and the P&Z Commission, have worked long hours revising the development code. Will the commission rip key components apart because their mystery friends don’t like it? Will the public have a say?

This flip-flopping has left the river unprotected. For years, it’s stalled the development plan revision. It has made them fail to deal with the ever growing potential of septic tank pollution in rural areas throughout the county.

Some of the nation’s top scientists and conservationists have labeled Fremont County, and especially the Island Park area, as one of the nation’s last best places and an area critical to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. This is why so many people recreate and own second homes here. Why would a responsible government make any decision that results in harming the resources that sustain the economy to satisfy unidentified people and ignore the majority of residents and homeowners?
We should all buy three cheap pairs of flip-flops and mail them to the Romrell, Hurt, and Miller.
— Elizabeth Laden

By ELIZABETH LADEN

FREMONT COUNTY — The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River’s fish, fish habitat, and the multimillion-dollar fly-fishing industry it sustains remain vulnerable to damage from motorized watercraft.

That’s because County Commission Chairman Paul Romrell this week did not keep his promise to take action to revise a county ordinance that addresses motorized watercraft use on the river.

Last week, Romrell and the other commissioners — Skip Hurt and Lee Miller — sank a proposed waterways ordinance that would have protected several stretches of the river from motorized watercraft. Instead, they decided to leave an almost 20-year-old ordinance on the books, which allows motors on almost the entire river.

Also last week, Romrell said he would be open to considering a new ordinance if a group proposed one. He also refused to acknowledge that in three different hearings, one of which was a formal public hearing, the majority of citizens who testified orally and by letter requested that motors be kept off many stretches of the river. Instead he and the other commissioners ignored all the public testimony, including the public hearing testimony they are supposed to consider and said “people they talked to” favor motorized craft on the river.

When Romrell arrived at the BOCC meeting Monday, he already knew that Stephen Loosli, the county’s interim Planning Department administrator, and Steve Trafton, the Henry’s Fork Foundation’s executive director, were going to propose new ideas.

Loosli, as part of his regular report to the commission, reviewed options he thinks the BOCC has: continue to do nothing and keep the original ordinance; allow the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss the issue; continue with Romrell’s idea to invite a private group to propose the ordinance.

But then Romrell refused to recognize Trafton when Trafton raised his hand to offer his thoughts.

And although Romrell acknowledged that he does not want motorized boats on Harriman and in the Last Chance area, neither he nor the other commissioners did anything to prevent this from happening. Last week, when he invited other to propose an ordinance, he said he would like to sign one by the end of his term. He lost the May primary election.

As it stands now, any size or power motorized watercraft can go anywhere on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, including through Harriman State Park, with two exceptions. The old ordinance forbids motorized craft from the McCrea Bridge to Coffeepot Rapids in Island Park and limits motor size to 15 mph from the Mack’s Inn Bridge to Trestle Bridge, also in Island Park.

Concerns about motorized watercraft expressed at the hearings include: disturbances to non-motorized craft and wading fisherman; bank erosion; impacts from oil and gas from motors on fish, the rare trumpeter swan, bald eagles, and other wildlife; noise; potential harm to spawning beds; economic impact on the fly-fishing industry.

Dee Young lives on the river near St. Anthony and was one of the most vocal motorboat advocates at the public hearing. He has also had a business relationship with one of the county commissioners in the past.

Up until now, the public has assumed that motors are not allowed on the river because that is what fishing regulations have stated and no one was aware that a waterways ordinance is on the books. A few different stories are going around about how the issue was brought up, including that the commissioners are accommodating their freinds who own motorboats.

The Henry’s Fork Foundation was founded 21 years ago to protect the river and its fishery.

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