With the last school bus-size chunks of the flood-wrecked Colorado Gulch bridge out of the Big Wood River, Blaine County is looking for options—and help—figuring out a replacement.
The county commissioners met with representatives of the Wood River Land Trust on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the process, which will likely include restoration of the river and surrounding floodplain, eventually followed by a pedestrian bridge for the popular access point southwest of Hailey.
The shape of the final project depends on how much money the county can muster. That’s where the Land Trust comes in. Grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Idaho Office of Emergency Management earmarked to restore damage from the monumental flooding in 2017 are slated to expire early next year. But, according to County Administrator Derek Voss, Blaine County can delay the deadline if it shows “just cause” for waiting—like an associated restoration project put forth by the Land Trust.
Through grants, the county is slated to receive reimbursement for the $50,000 it spent pulling out the failing bridge. The deal: Commit that money toward paying for a new one, and the Land Trust will pay for the river restoration—worth about $70,000, according to Project Coordinator Ryan Santo—and extend grant opportunities in the process.
“This is a lynchpin,” Voss said of the river work. “Without the restoration, it’s premature [to build a bridge], but there’s a timeframe on that money. The Land Trust is willing to work with us, and all indications from [the Idaho Office of Emergence Management] and FEMA is that they would support that.”
Voss is seeking cost estimates for the span itself. He’s been in contact with Big R Bridges, a company that makes prefabricated models, but hasn’t received a quote for its pedestrian options. (“You could say the old one was prefab, too,” said Commissioner Larry Schoen, “But it was just a railroad car.”)
The Land Trust bought 150 acres along the river to create the Colorado Gulch Preserve in November 2016. Since then, it has maintained public access to the land, with restrictions on overnight use. Blaine County keeps a right of way through the preserve, including the approach to the bridge site, and access to broad swaths of public access beyond it.
Maintaining that right of way is a priority for the county, Schoen said. While the Land Trust plans to curtail motorized access through the area, it has no intention of imposing further restrictions, according to Executive Director Scott Boettger. Right now, the final design for the area is still conceptual, he said.
“People ask us every day when it’s coming back,” Boettger told the board. “We want to be sure we get this bridge. The Land Trust is willing to go in and help fundraise for that.”
First, though, it will need to finance the river restoration, and apply for permits to work in the river from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers and Blaine County itself. Those steps should be enough to extend the expiring grants, Santo said. If approved, the instream work could be finished by the high-water season next spring. Then the county will see what sort of funding is available.
“I don’t see any other way this is going to get done,” Schoen said. “At this point, we don’t really have a choice.”