The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office issued mandatory evacuation orders for seven properties in the Gimlet neighborhood on Saturday afternoon, bringing the county’s total number of properties under evacuation to 18 as of press time Tuesday.
Homeowners along the west side of Gin Ridge Road closest to the river were instructed to pack essential belongings and “leave immediately.” The Gin Ridge section of Gimlet was previously placed in the “set” stage of pre-evacuation on May 17 at the request of the North Blaine County Fire Department “due to the loss of power to the area and the fact that the roadway is covered by water, which may hamper the access of first responders,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
As of Monday afternoon, more than two dozen properties on Wilderness Drive in Gimlet remained in “ready” status, which asks residents to prioritize the “P’s” of preparation and packing: people and pets, papers and important documents, pictures, personal electronics and chargers, and plastic (credit cards).
Early Tuesday morning, the East Fork of the Big Wood River east of Gimlet was in moderate flood stage at 8.1 feet. A river height of 7.9 feet correlates with a “minor flooding” around the Triumph area downriver to the confluence of the Big Wood River, according to the National Weather Service.
“East Fork Road near Triumph may have water flowing over it. Areas around Hyndman View Drive may have water flowing over roadways,” the Weather Service stated in its flood warning on Monday.
Blaine County Disaster Services Coordinator Chris Corwin said on Monday that he was hopeful residents would “finally start to see a decline in” flooding after the weekend, but stressed that the river has the potential for “all kinds of erosive and damaging consequences.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center, snow height on Galena Summit was 26 inches on May 23, around half of the 48 inches recorded on May 13.
With snow melting near Galena Summit at a rate of about an inch a day, the Weather Service said on Monday that it expected to see widespread flooding near Chocolate Gulch Road, Board Ranch, and the SNRA headquarters.
Around 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Big Wood near North Fork Campground was 8.8 feet, above the flood stage of 8 feet. Warm Springs Creek was 12.98 feet, also above the flood stage of 12.2 feet. At 13 feet, the Weather Service said it expected to see several sections of Warm Springs Road underwater and homes inundated with water in” Frenchman’s Bend area, Whipsaw Lane to Sawdust Lane” and “water up to the ski lift area at Warm Springs Day Lodge.”
River hits 7 feet in Hailey
The Big Wood River at the Bullion Street gauge in Hailey reached its highest point Monday night at 7.17 feet and is expected to hit 7.6 feet at 6 a.m. on Sunday, and continue to peak above 7 feet through June 2, according to the Weather Service.
Hailey Fire Chief Mike Baledge said on Monday that the river height should fluctuate around the 7-foot mark through the weekend, and he didn’t expect to issue more evacuation orders.
Parts of the Della View neighborhood in Hailey remain inundated. Eight residences on War Eagle Drive were issued evacuation notices on May 16, followed by two more residences on Triumph Drive and one on War Eagle on May 17. Some evacuees have been living in hotels and campers, while five people have opted to stay and a few people have refused to communicate with the city, Baledge reported on Monday.
Overall, he said “spirits seem to be OK.”
“People are working to defend their homes, doing the best they can with what they’ve got,” he said. “We’re dealing with groundwater issues with a bunch of homes. One resident has a large water bladder [around the home] but is still running three pumps to keep floor joists from getting in the water—it’s rising up that high on his house.”
Red Elephant Drive resident Cindy Theobald reported about 3 feet of water in her crawl space on Tuesday, and pumps running constantly. While she said she hadn’t yet seen any water inside her home, she was using waders to gain access to her house.
Cedar Street resident Ed Northen told the Express that water was flowing up to his driveway and east on Cedar Street, and he had two sump pumps running and water bladders ready to deploy.
“From the weather and river projections we should be good for the next few days, then we will see what the weather and water decide to do,” Northen said. “I am thinking this will be my life for the next few weeks—just waiting, watching and being prepared. If everything remains consistent with how it has been we may get lucky.”
Baledge noted that the city of Hailey saw several safety issues over the weekend with kids riding their bikes through the area and has stepped up enforcement to keep people out.
“The big problem is if anyone gets stuck in one of these culverts or washouts, it will have disastrous consequences,” he said. “You simply don’t know where the road ends, and there are a couple places there where if you go off the road you’re in over your head in water. If there’s any current, you could really get yourself into trouble. Plus the water’s not clean. It’s dirty, it’s got yard waste and debris, large sticks and logs floating everywhere.”
Baledge noted that the city’s special flood conveyance channel built in Heagle Park in 2018 and 2019 following the 2017 floods had been working “better than expected.”
“The channel through Heagle Park is running really swift and that culvert is just absolutely sucking up the water, which is shooting through that and rushing back out to the river,” Baledge said. “It’s pretty dangerous down there.”
Baledge also said he was concerned about kids rafting and inner tubing in the floodwater and had asked the Blaine County School District to run announcements about the dangers and unsanitary conditions of floodwater, “hopefully to discourage some of these kids from playing down there.”
The Hailey Police Department also issued a statement Monday urging curious onlookers and kids to stay out, and reminding the public that a large portion of West Cedar Street and War Eagle Drive are closed.
“We really do want to cut down on the looky-loo people,” Hailey City Administrator Lisa Horowitz said. “That’s not helpful to the neighbors who are there.”
County approves stream alteration waiver
Further south, the need for emergency flood mitigation work around Glendale Bridge in Bellevue on Sunday prompted the Blaine County commissioners to call a special meeting on Monday morning.
Commissioners unanimously approved a waiver of the emergency stream alteration ordinance to allow for immediate flood mitigation work on critical public infrastructure and irrigation works, including levees, points of diversion and headgates.
The waiver requires all emergency work performed on critical public and irrigation infrastructure to be reported to the commissioners through the end of the current emergency flood declaration.
“Many, many times when events like this occur, especially the water high like it is—is where we do not really have much time go through a provision process before we take action,” said Big Wood River Flood Control District #9 Director Bryan Dilworth, adding that actions were taken and retroactively approved during the 2017 floods.
“Yesterday, we took care of it, and if we’d waited two or three hours, there would have been water across Glendale Road and the west, and we were able to mitigate that,” he said.
Blaine County Floodplain Manager Kristine Hilt advised commissioners to limit the waiver to critical public infrastructure and irrigation works so that other stream alteration requests, such as work on private property, still require the permitting process.
Hilt said nearly 40 permits were issued after work was done in 2017, but some of that work was found to be in violation of the state regulations.
The flood protection district has broader authority in responding to emergencies, said Tim Graves, chief deputy prosecuting attorney for Blaine County. Graves urged caution against allowing other entities the same type of leniency.
The waiver, said Graves, is “directing the Land Use Department essentially to stand down and not enforce our regulations.”
Hilt said she can be available on short notice to meet onsite with flood protection district authorities to provide input.
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