Half a mile south of Bell Crossing, a homeowner has taken it upon himself to protect the new home he is constructing at the edge of the river. In doing so, he has created what a leading U.S. Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) biologist is calling “a poster child” for a bad riprap project.
Chris Clancy, fisheries biologist for the FWP, filed a complaint against the project last week on behalf of his department. In addition to almost 900 feet—three city blocks—of boulder riprap on the riverbank, the homeowner, Dave Bush, dredged out a channel in the river upstream from his home and built a dike from the gravel dredging that diverts the river channel away from his home toward the eastern shore.
The home Bush is building is unique in that it sits on the top of a crumbling cutbank just high enough above the river to be out of the floodplain. The home faces a bend in the river where the current beats against the bank, eroding it every high-water season.
According to existing records, Bush had three permits for the riprap work but none of the permits allowed him to do any work in the river. The Bitterroot Conservation District issued approval of the project in October 1999, but that permit clearly states “no equipment is intended for use in the river itself.”
The Army Corps of Engineers also approved the project but is now investigating the dredging and dam work, which was not authorized under their permit either.
As the agencies argue about what was permitted and what was not, Bush told the inquiring officials his contractor is to blame. The contractor, Bill Clarke of Ajax Construction countered by telling representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers that Bush himself operated some of the equipment in the river.
The Army Corps of Engineers, the Bitterroot Conservation District, and Ravalli County all plan on-site inspections in the next week or so. Clancy would like to see the boulder riprap removed, but that is not a likely option. The dredging and the diversion dam may wash away in high water or they may need remediation after the water goes down.
Bush isn’t talking. All inquiries about the river work are being referred to his attorney.