Corps of Engineers to build concrete wall to keep river in its channel -
State accepts SM floodwall plan - Grant provides $400,000 for $1.1 million project

By Ralph Bartholdt
Gazette Record


St. Marie,Idaho - The wall will fall.

Probably next summer, when the St. Joe River is at its lowest.

After that, at a total cost of $1.1 million, construction will start on a new crib wall along Railroad Ave.

The project to replace the failing wall, which keeps the St. Joe River from washing into several businesses along Railroad Ave. including the St. Maries Complex where 346 people work, has been on the minds of local planners for years.

Last week, the Idaho Dept. of Commerce notified the city of St. Maries that the government will pay for close to half of the reconstruction costs. It approved a $398,000 grant to assist with the project that should take about two months to complete.

Benewah County Commissioner Jack Buell, whose business Jack Buell Trucking employs about 200 people with its shop and headquarters behind the city levee along Railroad Avenue, together with Potlatch Corporation will provide in-kind construction services on the project.

“(Together) we’ll have $180,000 into it,” said Mr. Buell.

Part of that will be used to build a new wall, he said.

The city will pony up about $55,000 for the project, and the Army Corps of Engineers will contribute $786,000.

Last month, in an effort to secure funding for the work, Mr. Buell and Greg Cooperrider, St. Maries Complex’s general manager, presented to the economic advisory council its bid for a portion of federal money administered by the state.

Securing the grant was critical for St. Maries.

“It’s vital to the whole economy,” Mr. Buell said. “If that wall breaks it would shut down everything.”

Built of timbers and earth fill in 1942, the St. Maries floodwall was tested several times in the last half century. Six years ago a major flood that inundated low-lying areas north and east of the city, severely strained the structure. The following year, high water in the St. Joe River again put the wall to the test prompting officials to secure money for a partial fix.

Steal beams were driven at intervals into the wall, but the project was meant only as a temporary repair.

Each spring, fears of another flood, and the potential havoc it could bring, rise with the water in the St. Joe River.

“It would devastate St. Maries’ economy,” Mr. Cooperrider said. “The largest employer would go away and the second largest employer would be hugely impacted.”

A preliminary plan by the Army Corps of Engineers includes driving steel sheets into the ground and the new model is for a narrower structure of steel footings and reinforced concrete walls.

“It will get narrower which is better,” said city of St. Maries engineer, Phil Boyd, of Welch Comer Engineers.

A narrower wall will allow widening of a road that pressed against the old 14-foot wide structure. The 12-foot wall will be more resistant to the elements.

“It will be reinforced concrete,” Mr. Boyd said. “So it won’t deteriorate.”


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