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Addressing the Wood River Valley’s Unique Infrastructure Demands
Friday, March 3, 2023


Brian Yeager says being the public works director for the City of Hailey is like being owner of “a really big house. You’ve got all the drama…all the broken pipes, clogged drains…”

It’s a constant juggling act to keep things working as they should from the wastewater plant to roads, he added.

“We have a lot of roads to maintain and it’s a lot of money to maintain those roads. Right now, we’re consuming a significant portion of budget to deal with snowfall whereas cities like Twin Falls and Boise don’t have to use as much of their budget for those things,” he said.

Because of the long winter in the Wood River Valley, the City of Hailey and other local municipalities get six to seven months to pull off a project, whereas Twin Falls gets 12 months, Yeager said. And the valley’s roads deteriorate faster because of the freeze-thaw cycle and chemicals put on the roads.

“Then there’s a tough contracting market with limited contracting supply. So, its difficult to do projects like chip sealing. Large projects require design and bidding and we may not know if we have the money to do that until a month after winter ends. And, as soon as the snow ends, we go into flood season, then everything starts all over again,” he added.

Yeager was among three panelists who spoke at the Wood River Women’s Foundation 4th Annual State of the Valley Community Forum held Tuesday at The Community Library. This one dealt with infrastructure in a time of rapid growth—the valley saw 10 years of growth in two years, according to Muffy Davis, chair of the Blaine County Commissioners.

The panel included Yeager, Davis and Ron Bateman, Wood River Fire and Rescue chief.  And the forum was designed to help community members understand challenges and opportunities regarding the valley’s infrastructure in order to initiate a conversation about what can be done going forward, said Jenni Riley, who serves on the Foundation’s Education Committee along with Susan Passovoy, Renee Spooner, Lilian Wu, Jeanne Cassell and Ellen Fastow.

One of the current problems, said Yeager, is a shortage of people to do what needs to be done.  Currently, four of seven street department jobs are not filled, forcing Yeager to pull staff from the city’s  parks department to plow streets and fulfill other duties that the streets department handles. And, still, some snow gets left on the streets longer than he would like.

People are trying to fill the shoes of two people while the community is growing.

“It causes our workers stress not to be able to do their job 100 percent due to lack of sleep and other factors,” he said. “McCall has nine full-time street workers who maintain 26 miles of roadway; we have three people trying to maintain 52 miles of roadway.”

The shortage of workers is not limited to the City of Hailey. The county has five unfilled positions, even though the county has given cost-of-living raises to ensure workers have affordable wages so they can stay here if they want, said Davis. Four-day work weeks are a big draw, she added: “Those who have been on that schedule never want to go back.”

Bateman said the ability to live here is challenging because of lack of affordable housing and some of the highest food costs in the country. Even as he spoke, he said, one of his firefighters was working his last day before moving to northern California.

There’s more to it than putting a roof over someone’s head, added Yeager. Just getting the bare minimum housing may not allow workers horses or other things they require for their lifestyle.

“People need not only a place to live but a place that supports their lifestyle,” he said.

To address stress, Bateman said that his department is starting a 501c3 mental health group that acknowledges it’s okay to ask for help.

“We lost a member of our department last January, and I think about him daily and wish we could have done more.” he said.

While there are challenges, there are good things in the works, as well.

Five hundred housing units are about to come online. The City of Hailey just approved a $538,000 bike path from Croy Street to Quigley Road, and it’s designing a bike path along River Street to McKercher Boulevard. The city is also trying to create more ball fields. to keep up with growth.

The county just got $160,000 to plan a safe streets project and a county bike-pedestrian plan will come to fruition in April.

While it’s important to be attuned to what’s going on with local government, it’s also critically important to follow what’s going on in the state legislature, said Davis, a former state representative. The Idaho legislature turned down millions of dollars in federal funds that could have been used for early childhood education, which is currently a focus in the valley, while she was in the legislature, she noted.

Davis said she recently attended a meeting of the Idaho Association of Counties where someone asked: What would you tell someone you wish you had done 20 years ago?

The answer, she said, would be to buy as much public land as you can. “You can never have enough.”

Yeager noted that Hailey has a progressive water-tiered structure that encourages conservation. In contrast, some homeowner’s associations fine residents for trying to implement landscaping that uses minimal water, said Davis: “We need to change that.”

The community also needs to begin talking now about what traffic on the highway will look like 10 years from now and how it wants to address that, panelists said.

“We’re really one community,” Davis said. “While we may be five different municipalities, we’re really one community and I would like to see us work more collaboratively, more regionally.”

Yeager concurred: “Keep the conversation going where you want to be 10, 20 years from now. it takes the entire community to steer the direction we want to go.”


The City of Sun Valley had 912 registered voters in 2015, 990 in 2018 and 1,394 in 2020 just before the COVID pandemic. Last year it had 1,783 registered voters, according to Mayor Peter Hendricks."They show the large increase in population and how it puts a great strain on infrastructure resources, said Hendricks. "We were all expecting to experience growth but not in that magnitude and not over that short of a timeline."

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