Idaho Falls Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture

9-11-17 LMS

Closures last February of the Salmon River Road due to the heavy snows and avalanche conditions, which the Forest Service deemed unsafe for passage, drew angry outcries from down river residents. The upset culminated in May with a meeting of many residents, county law enforcement, county emergency services personnel, county officials, local and regional Forest Service officials and Idaho congressional delegation representatives. At that time those involved were tasked with finding ways to prevent the impacts endured last winter by downriver residents from ever happening again.

Communication was targeted as the key ingredient and Lemhi County has been meeting with the Forest Service ever since. At the September 11, 2017, Commissioner’s meeting North Fork District Ranger Ken Gebhardt and Salmon Challis National Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark delivered a letter of agreement on the Salmon River Road which stated a commitment by both parties, county and Forest Service, to jointly address the winter avalanche and snow removal activities on the road. 

The agreement states the Forest Service will continue being responsible for the road between April 1 and October 31 each year and that routine maintenance of the road will not occur between November 1 and March 31 each year. The county will continue to perform snow removal as needed between November 1 and March 31 when its schedule and work demands allow. 

In times of emergency, both the Forest Service and Lemhi County have agreed that one may ask the other for assistance and will respond to those requests to the extent possible with available equipment and personnel. An “emergency” now has the official definition of being, “…any snow slide or avalanche condition that completely restricts access or the critical transport of residents to a health care facility.” The conditions would be assessed by both Lemhi County personnel and the Forest Service prior to an emergency declaration. The county or Forest Service may discontinue winter avalanche or snow removal activities if conditions are deemed unsafe for removal personel. Gebhardt emphasized that in the event of another down river emergency year, the Forest Service is committed to communicating with the county.

Response to all elements of the downriver situation is contingent upon the limits of personnel, equipment and finances for both the Forest Service and Lemhi County. Commissioner Brett Barsalou noted at Monday’s meeting that discussions are continuing related to the possibility of staging some of the equipment and sharing it as needed. Gebhardt said Winter is when some experienced seasonal Forest Service employees are off work and could possibly be called in to run the equipment for the Forest Service or the county if the situation demanded. Commissioner Ken Miner thinks the idea makes sense since it would be Forest Service people operating Forest Service equipment. Barsalou said on-going discussions are all a dialogue leading to a better response in the event of a similar situation.

The letter presented will be attached to the existing Lemhi County/Forest Service Road Maintenance Agreement. The co-operative Snow Removal Agreement letter was officially accepted by the commissions in the form of passing a motion to that effect.

Supervisor Mark said he is pleased with the lines of communication that have been opened locally and said he is still in touch with the congressional delegation staff about more downriver road funding, which he identified as a “maybe.” 

There are four Forest Service road maintenance seasons per year on the Salmon River Road. Late April or early May…One pass along the road to clear rocks and ensure drainage is functioning. May or June…Initial ditch cleaning, drainage work and road shaping in preparation for dust abatement treatment. June or early July…Final shaping, compaction and application of dust abatement and in September or October, one pass with a grader to smooth out wash boarding and developing potholes.

Residents of the downriver community have taken an active part in the discussions and were thanked for their participation. There were several down river road residents in attendance and Gebhardt visited with them after the meeting with the commissioners. 

Any questions concerning the agreement may be addressed to North Fork District Ranger Gebhardt or Lemhi County Commissioner Barsalou.

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