While representatives from throughout Idaho assembled in Lewiston to discuss how to plan for emergencies, an ITD bridge inspection crew encountered what appeared to be a legitimate threat. A routine inspection of the historic Rainbow Bridge near Cascade revealed a suspicious object hanging from the arch over the North Fork of the Payette River. Inspectors found a plastic bucket with copper wires extending from the sealed top under the bridge. It apparently was moved to the center of the bridge using an elaborate pulley system that was anchored with bolts in the structure.
The mystery was accentuated by the placement of a small bouquet of wild flowers on the bridge rail – circumstances that understandably were interpreted as a terrorist threat.
ITD’s inspection team of Rick Smith (lead inspector), Jim Holland (inspector) and Jack Irwin (truck operator) contacted the Valley County Sheriff’s Office. Upon responding, the sheriff’s office immediately ordered the closure of Idaho 55 and summoned help from the Idaho State Police and the Boise Police Department bomb squad.
The highway was closed for nearly six hours while teams recovered the bucket and analyzed its contents. During the process, a man arrived and admitted that he had placed the bucket under the bridge as part of a geo-cache game – equivalent to a high-tech treasure hunt that uses Global Position Satellite to locate precise geographic coordinates.
Although some traffic was rerouted by pilot car over Smith’s Ferry Road, larger trucks were forced to wait until the scene was cleared, according to state police. Traffic backed up for miles along the highway. Some motorists chose to use U.S. 95 as an alternate route.
Boise Police Department bomb squad officials report they have responded to similar geo-cache incidents in the past, although this was the first full mobilization.
“Geo-cachers have rules that speak to the kinds of objects that should not be hidden and locations where they should not be placed, such as on public structures, in historic areas and in spots where they might be interpreted to be terrorist threats,” said Boise Police Information Officer Lynn Hightower.
Placement of the bucket under the Rainbow Bridge violated all three of those prohibitions.
“This location, under a historic bridge, on a main highway, over a railroad track and a scenic river, probably broke every rule,” Hightower said. “It’s a good example of why people who engage in this game must be familiar with the rules and use common sense.”
Valley County officials have not arrested the 33-year-old Meridian man who placed the object, but are considering possible charges as the investigation continues.