Wednesday, October 30, 2013

County weighs options to mitigate fire impacts

Government agencies present plans for recovery, safety

Express Staff Writer

Some work to mitigate the impacts of the Beaver Creek Fire has already started. Earlier this month, ground stabilization barriers were installed on a hillside in Croy Canyon, west of Hailey. Photo by Willy Cook

    Blaine County commissioners held a special meeting Monday in Hailey to discuss Beaver Creek Fire recovery efforts, which included findings and recommendations from multiple agencies in attendance.
    Commissioners listened to reports from the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service and others. Recommendations were presented toward future actions mitigating emergency situations in the Wood River Valley, as well as a discussion regarding project funding.
    The greatest issue of concern is debris flow from post-fire flooding, due to changes in the valley’s vegetation. The attending agencies offered solutions that would aid in mitigating future disasters resulting from the fire, specifically involving precipitation and early flood-warning systems.
    USGS representatives proposed the installation of six additional precipitation gauges, which would offer seasonal data about rainfall in the area from early April until late September. These gauges would give support to early warning systems in the event of flash flooding.
    The gauges would be installed this spring near critical areas with vulnerability to debris flows, offering as much early warning as possible and giving local residents more time to react. They identified areas that would be at risk to possible damage to human life or property, recommending specific sites for the additional gauges. The USGS would install and maintain the precipitation gauges, and offered a 50 percent cost share for the project. An aerial seeding project was also suggested, in order to rehabilitate lost vegetation in the valley.
    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also proposed work on a precipitation model that would anticipate potential emergency situations. This model would provide technical advice as to what changes in peak stream flows may occur with the loss of vegetation that occurred due to fire.
    The National Resources Conservation Service provided a damage report and a proposal that would aid homeowners in rebuilding what was lost due to the fire. With a proposed project cost of $1.6 million, the NRCS needs approval from the county to move forward with the rebuilding process.  
    Significant discussion was dedicated to to the price tags associated with each of the project recommendations, and the multiple cost-share options that would be available from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security and each of the agencies involved.
    After hearing the recommendations presented, commissioners adjourned with the intention of making decisions about the projects after conducting further research. They scheduled to meet again during their break from Tuesday’s meetings in order to receive additional information, and hope to make the decisions at their Nov. 6 meeting.
    The Beaver Creek Fire burned more than 110,000 acres of wildlands in and around the Wood River Valley in August.

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