By Don Jenkins
For the Chieftain
A Florida company has agreed to pay $115,000 in fines and fund a 10-year, $2.5 million project to repair damage to a creek caused when its dam breached last year on a southeast Washington ranch once owned by Ernest Hemingway’s oldest son.
The resulting flood closed the main artery between Enterprise and Lewiston, Idaho, for a time.
A section of the earthen dam on the property in Asotin County gave away April 13, 2017, releasing an estimated 9 million gallons of water, sediment and debris down Rattlesnake Creek.
A huge pile of uprooted trees collected at the bottom of the grade and a jagged edge was ripped into the asphalt.
Portions of the damage are visible to motorists today.
The primary bridge near Boggan’s Oasis was still standing, but another nearby span didn’t fare as well. A metal bridge across Rattlesnake Creek was destroyed, taking out access to Kevin Botts’ ranch. The cost to repair the span was estimated at $100,000.
Rattlesnake Creek is an important tributary to the Grand Ronde River and both provide habitat for fish protected by the Endangered Species Act. Summer steelhead use the creek for spawning, rearing and migration.
Washington State Department of Ecology announced the agreement with the current owner of Bonasa Breaks Ranch last week.
The breach severely damaged fish habitat, Ecology’s water quality program manager, Heather Bartlett, said in a statement. “The dam break caused erosion, loss of thousands of mature trees that provided shade to cool water temperature, and sent boulders downstream and blocked migrating fish. Restoring Rattlesnake Creek is essential.”
The dam was built in the ‘60s or earlier and had been enlarged without state permits in 2006-07, according to a post-breach investigation by Ecology’s Dam Safety Office. Engineers reported that the breach was most likely caused by an inadequate spillway that led to water over-topping the dam.
Construction flaws would have prevented the state from issuing permits to enlarge the dam, according to the investigation.
The 18-foot-tall, 414-foot-wide dam held back a 4.3-acre pond used for fish rearing and recreation, according to Ecology. The breach flooded a six-mile stretch of the creek leading to the Grande Ronde River.
The ranch was acquired in 2004 from Jack Hemingway’s widow by a limited liability company registered in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., according to public records. Efforts to reach the company’s agent, Stephen Croskrey, who signed the agreement with Ecology, were unsuccessful.
Jack Hemingway was born to the famous writer in 1923 and died in 2000. He bought the property as a hunting and fishing retreat in 1990, according to a 2001 story by Forbes magazine.
The property’s owner will pay a $15,000 fine for failing to obtain permits to enlarge the dam and $100,000 for violating the state’s water quality law.
Over the next decade, the ranch must meet deadlines to plant trees and shrubs, remove fish barriers and create habitat. The ranch could face fines of up to $500 a day for failing to keep on schedule, according to its agreement with Ecology.
The water and sediment released by the breach damaged a vacation trailer, flooded a public road, and damaged a bridge and highway, but no one was injured, according to Ecology records. The ranch paid the state Department of Fish and Wildlife $72,240 this year to rebuild a bridge across the creek.