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Baker residents suspect Lemhi River project caused ice jam flooding

LEHIM, Idaho (KIFI) - Ice jams in the Lemhi County town of Baker have caused damage to some areas near homes. While the Idaho Department of Fish and Dame had previously said the flooding was unpredictable, some homeowners believe they know why it is happening.

Rancher, Chad Stephenson, says he was already in contact with the department after his property flooded on Dec. 22, and he contacted them immediately when he saw it happening again.

"Monday afternoon, about 4 pm, I made the phone call...informing them that we had water coming in to our pond again and we needed to start taking action," Stephenson said. "From 4 pm to about 10 pm, it took that long for anybody from the fishing game to actually come out here and evaluate the situation."

Stephenson wasn't the only one to reach out. His neighbor Suzanne Nebaker says she attempted to contact both the county and Fish and Game after the buildup reached her property.

"They responded through the county and said that that was my responsibility," Nebeker said. "And they told me on Sunday morning when it breached again with ice jams after the weather had gotten warmer. They told me that at my own expense that I could put an excavator in the river."

Both neighbors say they took big losses due to the flooding. Stephenson lost more than $50,000fifty worth of hay. Fields on both properties are covered in 3 feet of ice. Something the community hasn't seen in years.

While ice jams are not uncommon in the upper Salmon basin. The community believes this was caused by a project to rebuild the fish habitat by re-channeling a two mile stretch of the Lemhi River.

Stephenson says the river was originally straightened to prevent flooding from happening.

"In the fifties is when they originally straighten the river...for one reason they didn't want to deal with the flooding anymore. All the landowners that the ranchers, they wanted more productive ground to try to get rid of some of that water. But you take a take a river was pretty much straight and make it into a great big S turns, you're going to have problems."

Fish and Game representative Windy Scholby wrote in response, "IDFG has a long history of working with landowners in the Lemhi Valley on restoration activities to benefit Chinook Salmon and steelhead, agriculture, and private property. The department has been working on a multi year river restoration project on private land near Baker, Idaho. The project was professionally engineered and permitted through state and federal processes..."

"At this time, the cause of the ice jam on the Lemhi has not been determined. Fish and game  is dedicated to working with the community and local government to evaluate the event and determine ways to mitigate future threats. "

Article Topic Follows: Idaho
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Seth Ratliff

Seth is a reporter for Local News 8 and Eyewitness News 3.


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