Monitoring the aftermath of last week’s flooding, state and county officials gathered on Sunday morning in Grangeville, Stites, and Kamiah to address the most severely damaged areas.
The purpose was to gather information about each location and particular needs in terms of damage and repairs, then address those needs with city officials and emergency response teams to determine the outlook and time frame of those repairs.
Among those who took time Sunday to tour water ravaged areas were Governor Brad Little, District 7 Senator Carl Crabtree, Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt, Lewis County Commissioners Greg Johnson and Justin McLeod, as well as other officials. On site in Stites to assess damage from the South Fork of the Clearwater River were Stites Mayor Ray Mireles and Kooskia Mayor Charlotte Schilling.
“I got a call this morning that they were going to meet and wanted to hear what they had to say,” said Schilling, who added that Kooskia seemed to weather the storm better than many surrounding areas that weren’t as fortunate.
The difficulty in dealing with natural disasters is a matter of priorities. While many Stites residents’ homes are still drying out from the torrent of brown water that turned the town into a river, the main focus of the tour centered on the gaping gorge at the intersection of Adams Grade and Glenwood Road near Kamiah.
“We’ve got two problems here, the short term, and the long term. The term is right behind us,” said Crabtree in reference to the chasm across Glenwood Road.
With dozens of homes impacted by the loss of a critical thoroughfare, as well as Chris Wilkins’ gravel pit located just above the washout, there is much concern that the repairs will not happen in a timely fashion.
“The reality is we’re probably looking at a year before we’re filling anything in,” said Brandt.
“I think we’d be lucky to even have a design within a year based on just how general bridge projects go,” said Little, who suggested the possible option of a bridge rather than just placing another culvert. The decision as to whether a bridge would be the best choice rather than a bigger culvert is something that will be considered in the next phase of the project.
Ironically, the subject of why the culvert hadn’t already been replaced years ago was also mentioned briefly. “They didn’t replace that culvert with a larger culvert because there was an argument about what kind of grass seed to use,” mused Little.
On the front burner will be the possibility of utilizing an alternate road as a temporary bypass until the permanent repairs can be made. Brandt pointed out an old road that circumvents the damaged intersection may be resurrected for that purpose.
Considering the road in question is a federal aid route, there’s some potential of maybe working with the Federal Highway Administration through their emergency relief program to expedite a speedier repair.
“How do you mitigate all of the damage from all the bedload that just went down in there?” said Little, pointing at the dwindling stream at the bottom of the washout in reference to the impact on the Clearwater River.
In response to his inquiry, Nez Perce Tribe Executive Direction Chairman Shannon Wheeler said they [the Tribe] were alright with the sediment that washed downstream into the Clearwater River. “It shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the ESA listed steelhead in that area,” stated Wheeler.
After a brief inspection of the washout, the officials headed back to Kamiah to wrap up their business in the area before heading back up to Grangeville.
A collective meeting conducted at the Kamiah EMS building was conducted with several area representatives, including Kamiah Mayor Betty Heater, Lewis County Emergency Manager Bob West, Kamiah Fire Chief Dan Musgrave, and Lewis County Sheriff Jason Davis.
“I’d like to thank Mayor Betty Heater for all her work with Bob, our emergency manager during this time,” said Johnson. “It just shows that good work and cooperation goes a long way.”
“We have a great community; when things like this happen, everyone tends to pull together which is what needs to happen,” said Heater. “I had a great collaborative effort with Bob and Dan and my maintenance crew. I just can’t be any more thankful, and I greatly appreciate you all coming to take the time to visit with us out here.”
After a brief introduction around the room and comments from all entities represented, Little addressed the group. “It’s really good to hear the stories about the comfort level with communication, whether it’s cities, counties, the Tribe, emergency services; that’s great because you can always do better, things change. You have all that action that takes place during the disaster and now we’re into the recovery and you have all these different coordination [plans]. What did we do right, what did we do wrong, what can we do better?
“Things change, the demographics of the community changes, the environment changes, laws change. These meetings are a great reinforcement as to how important that planning is. Having those lines of communication open as early as possible where people are comfortable, and having an instinct about when something really bad happens; here’s what I need to do in my lane and I’m comfortable with the people on both sides of my lane, they’re getting their work done.
“It always warms my heart about the resilience of the people in Idaho when they go through one of these.
“I’m delighted that Senator Crabtree and Rep. Shepherd spent the day with us, because Carl serves on the joint committee and once in a while we have to get a little money into emergency services. We’ll remind him about how important that is. More importantly is not wasting public resources whether they’re non-profits, Tribal, city, county; the more efficient we are collectively, the better it is for everybody and that’s where that coordination and that planning and training takes place,” said Little.
“I’d like to thank Betty [Heater] and Bob [West], we all worked really well together,” said Musgrave when Little had finished. “From the mill down there, we helped divert a lot of water going to the park, sent it right through our lumberyard. We had over two feet of water in places at the lumberyard. We lost three days of work at Kamiah Mills and three days of work from our sawmill in Weippe because of the flood and road access.”
“I really appreciate the Governor coming up to North Idaho to see personally what the issues are,” said Brandt. “I hope that affected folks understand that they are not the only ones that we need to focus on. And at the end of the day there are only so many tax dollars for projects. I was glad to have a great conversation with Tribal Chairman Wheeler. I look forward to working together to get things done as quickly as possible for our communities.”
Looming in the minds of local residents of the Clearwater Valley is the distinct possibility that there could be a reoccurrence of flooding if the weather isn’t cooperative. “We’ve still got another month and a half of hearty flood season left,” reminded Little, who said he hopes we are past the worst of it this spring.