Wednesday’s reopening of the Greenbelt in Boise highlights the long-term challenge that cities and counties along the Boise River face as they begin undoing flooding damage.
Yes, people can finally ride and walk again on much of Boise’s favorite path, the bulk of which closed in April. But there’s a lot of work left to do. Fallen trees have to be removed from the river so that people can safely float down it. Banks need to be shored up.
The cost of those repairs will be a big hurdle for local governments, which hope the federal government sends some assistance their way. And while we’re below flood stage now, the water in the Boise River is still too high to fully assess the damage. The one certainty everyone seems to agree on is that it’s considerable.
Boise Public Works and Parks and Recreation staffers walked and inspected all 25 miles of Greenbelt within city limits and determined all but five sections were safe for regular use, the city announced. The five sections that are still closed are as follows:
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▪ Part of the path through Marianne Williams Park.
▪ The entire Bethine Church River Trail near the Cottonwood Apartments in Southeast Boise.
▪ The south side of the Greenbelt underneath the West ParkCenter Boulevard Bridge to Loggers Creek.
▪ The north side of the Greenbelt near Veterans Memorial Park.
▪ Part of the north side of the Greenbelt that connects Esther Simplot Park to Veterans Memorial Pond.
And if you live in Garden City or Eagle? As of Wednesday, those cities had no plans to follow suit, and their Greenbelt stretches remained closed. Eagle spokeswoman Tammy Gordon said her city’s experts wanted to let the ground under the pathways dry out more before letting people back on them.
Murky money picture
Besides not knowing how much they’ll spend on future repairs, some of the governments along the river have yet to calculate exactly how much they’ve spent up to now.
The city of Boise, for example, knows it has spent $106,000 on employee wages (including overtime pay) to respond to flooding, said Char Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Boise Fire Department. But the city is still tallying its cost for materials and hasn’t estimated how much federal assistance it will request, Public Works spokesman Colin Hickman said.
Boise has set aside $1.4 million for flood-related repairs from an account normally used for projects like new buildings. But there’s no telling if that’ll be enough. In fact, given the scope of damage to Boise’s stretch of the paths, it seems likely the city will need more repair money.
The city of Eagle estimates repairs to the Greenbelt and other flood-damaged assets inside its boundaries will cost $700,000. That’s on top of the $16,000 it has spent already to hold back water spilling over the river’s banks, said Gordon. She stressed that the estimate is pretty rough right now, and costs could run much higher.
Gordon said many, perhaps all, of the unpaved pathways along the river in Eagle likely were completely destroyed. Fully repairing all of this year’s flooding damage might take years, she said.
Canyon County and the highway and irrigation districts within it have sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, and hundreds of acres of farm ground will need rehab, said Dave Schorzman of the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management.
Cost estimates were unavailable for Garden City and the city of Caldwell.
Ada County is asking for $10 million in federal assistance to cover its own costs as well as other agencies’ expenditures, such as the cities and Ada County Highway District, spokeswoman Kate McGwire said.
A bridge too short
Even the small-scale emergencies don’t have simple answers.
The Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands hasn’t decided when — or if — it will start raising money to replace a bridge it owned where the Boise River Greenbelt crosses Plantation Island east of Glenwood Street, executive director Jan Johns said.
Worried that floodwaters would wash the bridge out and send it crashing into the Glenwood Bridge or something else downstream, Ada County removed it in early April. That was a good decision, because the ground where the Plantation Island bridge was anchored eroded away.
Today, the bridge sits near the Ada County fairgrounds. Because of erosion, it’s too short for the river channel it once crossed. The Foundation hopes to put in a new crossing — the only north-south connection on the Greenbelt’s west side — but hasn’t worked out a plan to do so, Johns said. Part of the confusion is not knowing just how much change the floodwaters caused.
“We have no idea where we’re going with this or what’s happening,” Johns said. “I wish I had even the beginning to an answer, but I don’t.”
Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Jan Johns’ position with the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands. Johns is the foundation’s executive director.