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Not long after their first look at potential changes to Blaine County’s floodplain code Tuesday afternoon, the county commissioners inked a deal to study the valley’s biggest flood culprit: the Big Wood River.

The board unanimously approved a $170,000 contract with international engineering firm Cardno to take an in-depth look at the full run of the river. The study—the third conducted on the Big Wood since 2006—replaces an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a similar analysis. That partnership stalled while developing terms for the work, and fell apart earlier this year.

Now the 15 members of Cardno’s Northwest-based Restoration and Geomorphology Group is stepping in to develop a grand plan for a 36-mile stretch of the waterway from Stanton Crossing south of Bellevue to the SNRA headquarters north of Ketchum.

The final report will outline the work that could be done to mitigate flood risk and manage natural habitat there. Ultimately, those insights will fold into the county’s permitting and emergency management procedures.

“It’s not meant to suggest or recommend policies, but to present the science in a digestible form,” said Cardno Senior River Scientist Jonathan Ambrose. “What I kept hearing here is that you lacked a comprehensive tool for river corridor management and habitat restoration.”

One person sure to put the data to use is County Floodplain Manager Kristine Hilt, who helped develop the study’s scope of work. Past findings, including those completed by Jackson, Wyo.,-based Biota Engineers in 2016, are either too limited, too difficult to use or out-of-date, she told the commissioners Tuesday.

“Those studies were appropriate at the time, but limited in approach,” Hilt said. “[The Biota report] is hard for me to understand, much less the public. Currently, I don’t think our code, our department or our decision-makers have the tools they need.”

The final data will be publicly available, Hilt said. To guide the process, the commissioners plan to launch a citizens advisory board, spearheaded by Commissioner Larry Schoen.

“This is intended to be a stakeholder-led process,” Ambrose said. “We want to make sure it’s something that’s going to benefit you long term.”

The study is scheduled to be completed in about a year.

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