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Agencies clash over floodplain restrictions

170-foot setback will impact all Lane streambank properties


Flood insurance or fish? Officials of counties, cities and other municipalities around Oregon had that question put on their platters in April. That’s when a lawsuit by environmental groups generated recommendations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlining ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency should modify the National Flood Insurance Program. Throughout the state, 15 salmon and steelhead species are listed under an Environmental Impact Statement. Each, according to NOAA Fisheries, depends on a healthy, functioning floodplain habitat.

Findings within the ESA say development  in floodplains, “Can disconnect the area from river channels and destroy natural riparian  as well as wetland vegetation. Altering the natural processes that allow habitat to form and recover from  disturbances, such as floods, can affect multiple stages of the salmon life cycle and impede their  survival and long-term recovery,” according to the ESA.

How the findings could impact Lane County came to light locally when an area golf course’s application for a subdivision was denied in October of 2014. The decision by county planning director Matt Laird took into account current zoning, which would have allowed the 59-acre parcel at the McKenzie River Golf Course to be divided up as 2-acre lots, but called into question how that could occur in an area identified as a flood zone.

In his decision to deny the application, Laird said, “The proposed 27-lot subdivision will result in the degradation of the floodplain fish refuge area by replacing the open space golf course with multiple structures and impervious surfaces,” adding that the county code includes language requiring areas, “Of the floodplain … shall be retained in their natural state to the extent practicable to preserve water quality and protect … natural functions.”

Those concerns were answered in a successful appeal that detailed ways the development wouldn’t involve any adverse impacts to the fishery.

Keir Miller,  Planning Supervisor for Lane County’s Land Management Division said the collision between policies outlined in the Endangered Species Act and the National Flood Insurance Program, “Has the likelihood and potential to cause a major shift in the regulatory landscape and how we deal with flood hazard areas in Lane County.”

For Amanda Punton, a natural resource specialist with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, said the basic question facing local governments is going to be whether or not any activity is going to cause a “take” of salmon, while researching how those actions are defined.

NOAA’s “Reasonable  and Prudent Alternative” has recommendations for a 170-foot wide buffer area in a floodplain based on the inundation risk associated with a one percent annual chance flood event – a flood that has a 1 in 100 chance of happening in any year.

FEMA defines “development” as any human-made change to improved or unimproved real estate, including but not limited to buildings or other structures, mining, dredging, filling, grading, paving, excavation or drilling operations or storage of equipment. The RPA focuses on new development and re-development in floodplain areas, and allows maintenance of existing buildings and facilities, resurfacing of roads, gardening, or plowing and similar agricultural practices that do not involve filling, grading, or construction of levees.

Punton notes that “beneficial gains” could also result from development, if for instance, a property owner built a house or storage shed while also adding more trees or other improvements that would benefit fish.

A Town Hall Meeting on the proposed 170-foot riparian buffer zone will be held on January 23rd.   from 6 to 8 p.m. at McKenzie Fire & Rescue’s Leaburg Training Center. See the Community Calendar on Page 6 for more details.


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