County flood concern focused on Wind River; US Army Corps backed away from river fix

(Riverton, Wyo.) – Today is the annual start of Flood Awareness Week and it began this morning with local emergency response and other agencies gathered to talk about pre-flood preparations.

For some county residents, however, the flood season has already begun and a fix that county managers thought was in place for a problematic stretch of the Big Wind River east of Diversion Dam has apparently been taken off the table.

To the surprise of County Commissioners Travis Becker and Larry Allen, and to Fremont County Emergency Management Director Kathy Metzler, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has apparently withdrawn a proposal that would’ve allowed the Wyoming Department of Transportation to place “J hooks” in the river before it flows under the bridge on Highway 26 at a bend in the river. The J hooks would’ve served to redirect water into the current river channel, instead of eroding the riverbank where it now turns and thereby create a new river channel. That nearly occurred in 2011 when the Mcaleenan place in the 10,300 block of Highway 26 was totally flooded and highway 26 was closed for several weeks as water crossed the roadway. Redirecting the flow back into the river was one solution that WYDOT hoped to accomplish.

“We’ll now use cables and logs to shore up that eastern river bank and hope the river doesn’t crest the bank,” said WYDOT Riverton Maintenance Foreman Robin Clapp.

Rocky McWilliams, who just retired as the county’s Riverton Transportation Department Supervisor, said if the river breaches the bank, that work would be for not.

There was no explanation as to why the Corps changed its mind about the project.

A nearby neighbor of the Macaleenan’s, Lawrence Wickstrom, who lives along River Bluff Road, said corrals at his dad’s place are already under water. He asked when sand and sand bags would be available, “or do I have to wait until we’re knee deep in water?”

County Commissioners Travis Becker of Riverton, left, and Larry Allen of Lysite attended this morning's meeting. (Ernie Over photo

Commissioners Becker and Allen attended the meeting. (EO)

He didn’t get the answer he was looking for.

Becker responded and said the county’s priority is critical infrastructure, such as bridges and roads. “We feel it is the private landowners responsibility for their property,” he said.

Metzler said sand bags are available at two county shops, north of Lander and in Riverton, but those are just the bags.

Becker said the commissioners would delegate the official flood response to Fremont County Fire Protection District Chief Craig Haslam when that becomes necessary.

Haslam, in reponse to Wickstrom’s question, said it would be up to the commissioners “as to when they would expend funds to allow citizens to use resources,” such as sand and/or sandbag loading apparatus. “We’ll do all we can to help people, but the fiscal decisions are made by the county.”

Allen said the commissioners would meet Tuesday in regular session. “We’ll address it tomorrow and give Kathy (Metzler) some direction then.

With snowpack in the Wind River Basin at 113 percent of the median this morning, National Weather Service Hydrologist Jim Fahey said he believed that flooding along the Wind River would be moderate to high. “I don’t think this will be a 2011 event unless we get a lot of snow in the next two to three weeks, and it’s not trending that way now.” He said current conditions are mirroring the runoff season in 1996.

“The snow at the 8 to 8,500 foot level has burned off and the snow at the 9 to 10,000 foot elevation is still pretty healthy. It’s well above the median,” he said. He also said he would expect the peak runoff to occur at the end of May and first of June, “within the historical time frame.”