County officials may reconsider their plans for stabilizing part of the banks of the Gros Ventre River after criticism from experts and advocacy groups
The Board of County Commissioners approved a project last week to preserve the pathway bridge north of town — which is at risk of erosion from spring flooding — by armoring the riverbank with rocks, a method known as riprap. But some, including Wild and Scenic River Coordinator David Cernicek of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, say that’s not best for the river.
“I think we’re probably better than that if we can afford it,” he said at a meeting Monday. “There are a lot of better solutions these days.”
The county initially pursued rip rap, according to Teton County Engineer Amy Ramage, because National Elk Refuge officials said it would be easiest for elk to cross during their migration.
“Literally, for elk hooves and legs, they felt that was the best solution,” she said.
Others, including Jared Baecker, executive director of the Snake River Fund, and Tom Segerstrom, director of the Teton Conservation District, countered that riprap would come with its own adverse effects. For example, it could deprive cottonwoods of the spring flooding they rely on and lead to worse erosion on the opposite side of the river.
Without offering any specific recommendation, Cernicek said there are subtler alternatives to riprap that are just as effective.
“I’d really encourage you guys to look at this,” Cernicek said, “and come up with something that’s more of a Teton County standard for people who really care about their rivers and don’t want them impeded.”
Though the commissioners approved the project 4-1, with Commissioner Luther Propst opposed, others appeared to be questioning the decision on Monday.
“I feel like this needs a second look,” Commissioner Mark Barron said.
Commissioner Mark Newcomb said the project they approved had been vetted by experts in ungulate migration, and he was hesitant to discount their analysis. But above all, he argued, the county needs a well-defined process for such matters.
“We need to avoid being in this situation,” Newcomb said, “where we’re sort of managing every individual project differently.”
Propst, the sole vote against the project, said the county should hold itself to the highest standard, “to allow us to speak with more authority” when asking private landowners to use the best stabilization methods.
The commissioners held off on changing course until Monday, when county staff will have more information on the possible consequences of riprap and other possible techniques.
If they do terminate the $440,000 contract they approved with CM Owen Construction in favor of pursuing a different project, it’s unclear whether they will be able to stabilize the bank by spring as planned.