Governor in town: Otter makes visit to Blackfoot to see flood damage
BLACKFOOT — Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, as well as federal, state and county officials, toured areas affected by flooding or in danger of flooding in eastern Idaho Thursday.
“Bingham County is more prepared for flooding than we were in 1997,” said Bingham County Commissioner Cleone Jolley.
Bingham County Disaster Services Director Craig Rowland said “at the Blackfoot site Thursday, the water level is at 11 feet. That’s one foot below flood stage.”
The levy along the golf course has been repaired, although the Rose archery range is flooded and some levees in the Thomas area are threatened.
“There is a 302 percent of normal snow water equivalency in the mountains,” Otter said. “Do you have a plan in place for 13.5 feet of flood water or 14.5 feet of flood water?”
“We are prepared,” Rowland said. “If water gets that high, we are prepared to evacuate people. If homes are threatened, we have sandbags on hand.”
Rowland added “we have 225,000 sandbags distributed and 50,000 sandbags filled and ready to move in a moment.”
“If water reaches 13.5 feet, the Highway 26 bridge is gone,” Rowland said. “Groveland and Moreland would be flooded. The Blackfoot Airport would be flooded.”
The governor asked questions about water storage in the Palisades Dam.
“There is more storage right now in Palisades than in 1997,” Commissioner Jolley said.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineer representative Jon Petersen said, “as of Thursday, Palisades is 28 percent full. In ‘97, 50,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water was released. Presently, we are releasing 20,000 cfs. That leaves 30,000 cfs to be released. We can hold that amount for 14 days to accumulate snow melt, Petersen said.
“Would there be time for a warning?” Otter asked.
“Yes, we would have from 30 to 36 hours before the water reached Blackfoot,” Rowland said.
“If flood water rises, what about health concerns for individual septic systems?” the governor asked.
He was told that the health district is monitoring the situation and folks are in place to help where needed.
“What can the state do to help?” the governor asked.
“The state has helped us a lot,” Rowland said. “We have gotten everything we’ve asked for.”
The state has supplied a track line with a thumb to take help take off debris, Rowland said. In addition, the Civil Air Patrol has flown over the area and taken pictures from the air, said Rowland. “It looks a lot different when you can fly over [the flooding].”
“We think we’re in charge,” Commissioner Jolley said, “but really Mother Nature is.”
After the discussion, the governor, county commissioners and representatives from the Idaho Homeland Security and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boarded a Black Hawk helicopter to tour affected areas in Bingham County.
After the tour, the governor said it looked like 1,500 cultivated acres are underwater.
Besides the cultivated acres, there are probably an additional 2,000 to 3,000 acres of pasture land underwater, said Bingham County Commissioner Ladd Carter.