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On February 25, a panel of 29 people gathered to talk about all the information state and federal agencies will require in order to decide on whether or not to issue permits for the proposed Salmon Whitewater Wave Park.

During the first hour Nathan Werner of S2o Design and Engineering presented a thorough explanation of how the wave park would be constructed as well as track records, economic improvements and photos of other parks the design company has built around the country. He detailed the technical components of how the three separate cement structures, designed to redirect water flows and create white water rapids in the Salmon River, will be constructed and installed. He said the underwater structures will be low maintenance and provide waves at a water-skill range from beginner to expert. Werner said there will be no impact to the city’s infiltration gallery or pump structure located downstream from the proposed site and that there will be no negative impacts to the Norton Ditch. Werner said Island Park is an ideal location for such a facility with its surrounding, established community as well as restrooms and parking.

The “River of No Return” poses many challenges. The water itself is under state jurisdiction. The waters contain fish listed as endangered and are therefore subject to all federal regulations. Its navigable waters flow into Wild and Scenic territory and on to the ocean thereby coming under jurisdiction of the US Coast Guard. The land on the bottom of the river belongs to the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) which, according to Eli Robinson of the IDL Idaho Falls office, will be examining all existing easements for possible impediments.

The Salmon River is subject to federal rules under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) - a division of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The lead agency in permitting for the Whitewater Park is the Army Corps of Engineers and it will be basing its permitting decision on its own research as well as relying on the expertise of all involved agencies. It will also be listening to input from County and City government and the general public.

Rob Brochu, Regulatory Project Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District, led the meeting’s question and answer session. He outlined what would be required in order for the Wave Park project permit applications to be approved. The list included a Clean Water Act permit, compliance with the ESA as well as all other environmental issues, compliance with any existing water treaties, meeting public safety concerns and adherence to water quality requirements.

Brochu said focus will be on impacts before during and after construction by way of statistics on current usage of the river and who is using it, wildlife and any conflicts to current users such as jet boats and float boats. The thing that ties everything together is dealing with an endangered species habitat

The recurring issue that kept surfacing throughout the meeting was the question of who is going to be responsible for maintenance of the Wave Park after construction. That includes regular maintenance plus any damages that might occur from high water flows or ice jams. Brochu said the Corps will have to have financial assurance from the association that there is the where-withal to fix any damages as well as details that clearly spell out what maintenance will and will not be done. Designer Werner commented that most water parks are sponsored by a municipality so questions of maintenance have not really been an issue before now.

Kerrie Mathews of the Idaho Department of Water Resources said that in contrast to the federal government, the state permit contains no clause for maintenance under the Stream Water Protection Act. She said what that means is that every non-exempt action below the ordinary high water mark will require a state permit.

Comments from the Fish and Game Department’s Jeff Richards and Greg Schoby were related to concerns for resident fish passage as well as the safe passage for anglers and river users. One focus was on the safety of floaters coming from the Shoup Bridge launch site and encountering the first wave park structure which will be located south of the Main Street Bridge.

Fish passage and habitat for anadromous fish is a major concern for the NMFS according to that agency’s local Fisheries Biologist Chad Fealko. He said NMFS will be one of the agencies issuing a permit which also engages the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries. Fealko said NMFS will require a Biological Assessment from the Corps of Engineers which evaluates all impacts on species in the critical habitat.

Troy Saffle of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality said the DEQ’s job is to help the permit applicant make sure the project does not have a negative impact on water quality, make sure construction is done right and that the applicant understands Environmental Protection Act (EPA) storm water permitting rules. He said public interest factors will go a long way in influencing the agency’s opinion and that DEQ will have a 21 day public comment period.

Brochu said the time frame for permit determination is probably a minimum of 180 days and that the Corps will be actively soliciting public comments including those from the city and county. He said that if the city or county approves authorization to any part of the project activity, that authorization will be viewed as being a general representation of public interest which, he hastened to add, may not necessarily be true. He said the Corps will still evaluate any public comment received.

In the best tradition of “…if you build it they will come” Bill Shaw of the Idaho Transportation Department said he had yet to hear of any plans related to impacts of increased traffic flow on roads and highways or impacts of increased tourism or taking into consideration the fact that the Main Street Bridge which spans Island Park is going to have to be replaced in ten or fifteen years. Brochu confirmed that the Corps will want to hear how any increased traffic needs will be addressed.

Ken Lawrenson of the U.S. Coast Guard said safety is the primary mandate of the agency and is the agency’s main concern. He said the Whitewater Park plan does not contain enough details pertaining to navigational safety such as risk assessments to drift boats or jet boats or boat ramps. He said the Coast Guard is not involved in issuing a permit however; it will be making sure there are no hazards to navigation and will be advocating for local emergency services personnel.

Sheriff Lynn Bowerman said he has supported the idea of a wave park from the very beginning but not at the location chosen. He said more ingress/egress congestion at the Highway 93 North/Courthouse Drive/Main Street junction would be a real headache for the city as well as for Sheriff’s Department personnel rushing to emergencies. He also questioned Search and Rescue Jet Boat launch accessibility. It was confirmed by designer Werner that he didn’t know of any other wave park that included jet boat traffic. Bowerman questioned the advisability of combining a wave park, jet boats, float boats, recreationists and steelhead fishers on a narrowed segment of the river. Deputy Sheriff Jeff Bennett said Island Park is the only take out on the popular year around Shoup Bridge to town river run. Whitewater Association representative Breann Green asked if removing the plan’s #1 obstruction would resolve safety concerns and Bennett said it would help. Green then said there would be a lot of directional signage and that foot traffic could be directed over the existing pedestrian bridge. Bennett also questioned the proposed location for a new boat ramp in view of seasonal flood issues which would cause a lack of river ramp accessibility.

City Development Project Coordinator Mary Cerise reported there are traffic studies that have been done in the general Island Park area and Mike Overacker relayed Norton Ditch user’s concerns about sediment in the head-gates.

Other local comments came from Mayor Leo Marshall and Councilmen Jim Baker, Rob Jackson and Ken Hill. Marshall suggested rerouting more water to the east channel and was told that purposely manipulating water flows requires a state water right which in turn could ultimately create a legal nightmare. Marshall then mentioned the overgrowth of trees in the east channel and was advised to address it as a levee system flood risk. Baker mentioned the yet to be constructed Island Park bridge, then brought up a significant need for additional boat launch ramps. Jackson identified the meeting’s number one issue as being the question of continued maintenance and pointed out that if and when the new bridge is built a lot of parking space will be lost.

Hill congratulated the association for the amount of ground work devoted to the project. He cited what a park did for Salida, Colorado in 1972. He said a whitewater park literally saved the formerly timber and mining dependent town and he thinks the same thing could work here.

Lemhi County Commissioner John Jakovac said he is concerned about the #1 obstacle creating unsafe difficulties for boaters. He also noted the number of children that play in the park and the fact no one can calculate for ice jams or cover against liabilities. Commissioner Ken Miner gave a hats-off tribute to the work done by the association and said his concerns are about effects of ice jams, Search and Rescue access and the lack of long term financial responsibility.

The Western Whitewater Association representatives questioned potential navigation risks posed by the two upstream standing water obstructions that are planned and offered whatever assistance the organization can supply.

As a closing note ITD’s Bill Shaw suggested that as long as artificial flows are being created perhaps one could be included that would divert flows from around the Island Park main bridge support thereby lowering the present critical scouring classification to non-critical and extending its life span.

The three and a half hour meeting took place at the Salmon Fish and Game Department and was attended by an audience of approximately 20 people. The meeting was moderated by Breann Green of the Salmon Whitewater Park Association who was able to ask many questions and receive many answers related to the application process. She received high praise from Brochu on the tremendous amount of work and research she has put into the association’s proposed project.

Agencies represented were: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Idaho Fish and Game, the Idaho Transportation Department, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Army Corps of Engineers, Idaho Department of Water Resources, National Marine Fisheries, Idaho Department of Lands, U.S. Coast Guard and Marine Safety Unit. There were also representatives from: Lemhi Environmental Consulting, Salmon Search and Rescue, Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office, Western Whitewater Association, the Norton Ditch Users, the Salmon Whitewater Park Association, the Salmon City Council and staff and the Lemhi County Commissioners.

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