Idaho Falls has decided against paying half the cost of a preliminary feasibility study on replacing the failed Teton Dam, citing a lack of support for a new one.
The decision has led its main proponents, the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, to put the idea "on the back burner," said district manager Dale Swensen.He said the district, which provided much of the impetus for the original $74 million earthen dam on the Teton River, felt Idaho Falls' involvement would give the proposal a boost.
"We thought it'd give us a broader base of support for it, both financially and politically, and everything else," he said.
The district now is pinning much of its hope on efforts to save Idaho's dwindling salmon runs from extinction. That will require huge amounts of water to help the fish migrate.
"Hell, they'll do anything for endangered species," said James Siddoway, a member of the Committee of Nine which helps coordinate irrigation in Water District 1 on the upper Snake River.
Siddoway said perhaps the state's worst drought has underscored the need for another reservoir.
The original dam failed on June 5, 1976, shortly after the reservoir was filled for the first time. The disaster killed 11 people. Damage claims totaled about $350 million.
The Idaho Falls City Council had budgeted $100,000 this year in case it decided to participate in a study.
But Mayor Tom Campbell has informed the district by letter that the council has deemed the proposal "premature." He said there currently is no governmental, political or public support for rebuilding the dam.
City officials say Idaho Falls' only interest in the project lies in the possibility of having a power plant there if some other agency spearheads reconstruction.
Idaho Falls has the state's largest city-owned hydroelectric generating system.
Campbell said the federal Bureau of Reclamation or the Army Corps of Engineers may look at the site for water storage as part of the effort to help endangered salmon.
The irrigation district serves about 1,500 irrigators in Fremont, Madison and Teton counties.
Siddoway said the city's decision is not a fatal blow to the district's effort.
"It isn't going to bring the thing to a screeching halt or anything," he said.
Estimates of the cost of a new dam have ranged from $150 million for a rock-filled structure to $250 million for a concrete dam.