County rejects new flood plain rules, regulations

SHERIDAN — The Board of County Commissioners rejected a motion to adopt new rules and regulations governing flood plain management by a vote of 3-2 at its meeting Tuesday. Commissioners who rejected the motion to adopt the rules said they felt too rushed and wanted more time to work on a few areas of concern.

Commissioners Terry Cram, Mike Nickel and Bob Rolston voted to reject the rules. Commissioners Steve Maier and Tom Ringley voted to approve them.

“When it really came right down to it, we weren’t quite sure of how we wanted to go. To try and overhaul the entire resolution today, in this meeting, I think would have been a mistake,” Rolston said.

Ringley said he supported the regulations because county staff has put a lot of work into them and he felt there had been plenty of public input. He said the public input at the meeting — given by four county residents and centered on one major revision to the old flood plain regulations — had been received before in emails and public meetings.

“Nothing new was brought up today,” Ringley said. “I thought it reflected the best practices for continuing flood management in Sheridan County. I liked it like it was. I didn’t have any problems with it, so I voted for it.”

The new rules and regulations governing flood plain management in Sheridan County — which includes Big Horn, Story, Arvada and other unincorporated areas — were revised to comply with a Federal Emergency Management Agency requirement that new Flood Insurance Rate Maps and a Flood Insurance Study be adopted by cities and counties in order to maintain eligibility in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Further revision of rules and regulations apart from adopting the new FIRM maps and insurance study was not required to maintain eligibility.

Sheridan adopted its revised regulations and the new FIRM maps on third reading Monday. Dayton and Ranchester are in the process of adopting new regulations and FIRM maps.

Legislation passed by U.S. Congress in 2012 requires the National Flood Insurance Program to raise rates to reflect true flood risk, make the program more financially stable and change how FIRM map updates impact policyholders, according to information on FEMA’s website. The changes will likely lead to premium rate increases for some, but not all, flood insurance policy holders.

Sheridan County resident Mitch Cangiamilla spoke against the new flood plain regulations. He said he supported the county adopting the new maps — which were completed in 2012 and include base flood elevations along 66 miles of Big Goose, Little Goose, Goose and Soldier creeks — but not the new regulations.

Cangiamilla took particular issue with a new stipulation in the revised regulations that development be limited to one foot above Base Flood Elevation in a flood plain.

“BFE+1 is not needed. There’s been 125 years without it, and without any ill effects, and I think we need to continue down that route,” Cangiamilla said.

Cangiamilla also noted that FEMA is in debt and that these new regulations may be a way to increase premiums without paying out claims, thus reducing its debt.

Public Works Director Rod Liesinger said the requirement for development to be one foot above base flood elevation was added to make county regulations more consistent with the city’s regulations.

The BOCC did vote 4-1 to amend the regulations to remove the BFE+1 requirement.

Banner resident Vicki Taylor noted that there is a key difference between the city’s and county’s regulations. She said that “A Zones,” which are areas near creeks without any Base Flood Elevation data, are handled differently.

The city requires the flood plain administrator to obtain and use scientific and/or historical data to determine the base flood elevation. The revised county regulations require an applicant wishing to build in a flood plain to obtain an official Base Flood Elevation from an engineer. Those studies can cost $3,000 to $5,000.

Taylor also noted that the county’s revised flood plain regulations do not exempt agricultural lands as prior proposed regulations, particularly the rejected riparian zone regulations, did. She said that means any development, including fencing and other items needed for ranching, along streams in “A Zones” could be limited or required to obtain a BSE study.

Commissioners Cram and Nickel both expressed a desire to alter BSE study requirements for single developments in “A Zones” in the county.

With the defeat of the revised flood plain regulations, they will be sent back to the County Planning and Zoning Commission for review once further changes are made. FEMA is requiring the new FIRM maps to be approved by Jan. 16, 2014. With the tight deadline, it is likely the county will call special meetings to complete the revisions in time.

“I just want to do this right. This is a big step we’re taking. This is a big issue. I want to make sure we do it right,” Rolston said. “We’ve not had a large hew and cry from all of the residents of Sheridan County, be they rural or even from the municipalities and the city, but it’s an issue that if we don’t get it done right then there’s a crack in the dam that could be disastrous down the road. I want to take the time and do it right.”

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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