Local governments’ unprecedented decision to shut down most of the Boise River Greenbelt because of high river flows has led to confusion and frustration as residents notice how much of the path is dry and how many people are ignoring the omnipresent closure signs. The closures affect paths maintained by Boise, Eagle, Garden City and Ada County.
“We’ve heard from the public that the appearance of the Greenbelt seems just fine ... and we’re overreacting to what potential damage could be occurring,” said Doug Holloway, the director of Boise Parks and Recreation. “And that’s fine. I expect the public to have that reaction to a recreation amenity and a commuters amenity that is so highly used.”
Holloway explained the reasons for the closures, the city’s approach to those who violate the closures and the prospects for re-opening the path in a Q&A with the Idaho Statesman. Here is the bulk of that interview:
Q: The April 14 press release announcing the closure primarily cited the safety issues created by the fast-flowing river. What all went into that decision?
A: “It was almost a three-fold decision. The first was obviously the river itself and the swift current, and there were a number of locations where the path was going very, very close to the river and a child could swerve off the edge of the path ... and into the river. That was the primary concern. Almost equally of concern was the erosion aspect because our engineers have been closely monitoring the river banks all along the Greenbelt and they were starting to notice areas where there was erosion occurring into the bank. (Third), all of a sudden you start looking at connectivity integrity issues. ... Really it came down to safety. We don’t know what’s happening under the path at a number of locations. Rather than pick and choose where we think there might be a problem, let’s close the entire path at least until the river subsides and we can see what kind of erosion problem we have. ... We’ve also removed eight or nine trees from near the Greenbelt because they literally, over the period the river has been at this flow, have gone from standing up to leaning over. We’ve identified another half-dozen trees we’re watching very closely because they’ve started to lean.”
Q: Have you stopped offering detours with most of the path closed?
A: “Once we closed it, we got away from the detours.”
Q: How bad do you expect the damage from this flood to be on the Greenbelt?
A: “We won’t know until it drops down and we can take a look at the integrity of various bank locations. We do know there are going to be bank-restoration efforts that are going to have to occur. Second, if the integrity of the bank is gone deep enough under the path, that obviously creates a more complex repair job. ... I’m not an engineer, but the folks in the public works department say it’s simple physics — the water is pushing so hard against the bank that over time it creates sort of a honeycomb effect inside the bank. Water continues to travel in that direction. In a lot of locations, it’s flowing more than likely underneath the Greenbelt. If you’ve got people on the Greenbelt, there’s potential for a sinkhole to occur.”
Q: What do you do about all the people ignoring the closures?
A: “We just continue to educate. We continue to have our bike patrol folks hand out literature and explain why it’s being closed. Our team out doing repairs and monitoring the situation, they’re handing out information as well. That’s really all we can do right now and all we want to do right now. We do not want to start ticketing for ignoring the closure signs. There’s no question that it has (helped deter people) because use of the Greenbelt is down right now. Most of the people that I’m hearing from are concerned, regular users that are not using it ... but they want to use it. Their concern is: ‘Hey, it looks fine. Is there a way to rethink why we’re closing the Greenbelt?’ And at this point, there is not. We’re in it for the long haul until the river subsides.”
Note: River flows are expected to remain high well into June.