Workers clearing trees near Blackfoot River

BLACKFOOT — For the past two weeks, large trees along the north and south banks of the realigned Blackfoot River have been removed to comply with Corps of Engineer recommendations.
District Seven Flood Control board secretary Marion Walker said the Army Corps of Engineers has established new recommendations for flood control as a result of the many lawsuits brought against the Corps after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Before 1962, the river meandered, Walker said. In fact, there were two channels.
Work to realign (straighten) the Blackfoot River started in 1962; the work was completed in 1964.
"Realigning the river really helped," Walker said. "We have never had a flood since the 1960s."
After the corps completed its work in 1964, the repair and maintenance of the Blackfoot River became the responsibility of District Seven Flood Control, Walker said. The District Seven Flood Control extends north to Judicial and south to the KBLI radio station and beyond.
"Each year, the Army Corps of Engineers comes into Blackfoot to check on the river and erosion on the river," Walker said. "The Corps has said we need to maintain rivers to the Corps' standard if we want help to maintain the river.
"Each year, the Corps keeps telling us we need to get rid of the trees to prevent future floods, " District Seven Flood Control president Jack Olney said.
After the flood control district comes up with the funds, they will need to spray for all vegetation along the river banks.
"It needs to be a water soluble spray," Olney said.
The flood control district is a taxing district. Funds come from those people living on the flood plain.
"The responsibility of the flood control district extends from the toe of the levy [on one side of the river] to the toe of the levy [on the other side]," he said. The easement on each side of the river varies from 30 to 50 feet.
"After the work was completed in 1964, there were no trees left along the river," said Walker. "Over the years, the trees have grown up."
The size of the trees and how far they are from the high water mark determines if they will be pulled down, Walker said.
"Tall trees are a serious problem," he said. "If the levy is saturated with water or the ground is wet, tall trees can tip right over.
"If there is any kind of give at all, that can leave holes in the levy," Walker said. "We are trying to prevent anything like this happening.
"We do what we can to the best of our ability," he said.
After a permit is granted from the city and with help from the fire department, slash burning will be done along the river banks.
"This will be done during the non-threatening fire season (during the winter)," Walker said.
"People can do what they want on their own property as long as it does not encroach on the flood control district's right of way," Walker said.
Walker, Olney and Michael Birch (vice president) form the three-member District Seven Flood Control. Each man was appointed by the Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, Wash.
Blackfoot resident DeAnne Muchow said she was concerned about the loss of habitat for the birds and the wildlife sanctuary with the loss of those big cottonwoods.
"The trees also provides a wind break," Muchow said.
She said she plans to continue working with property owners to see what can be done.