Officials worried about change

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer March 05, 2014 11:08 am

Proposed changes to floodplain regulations have local authorities concerned

ENTERPRISE — Concerns of federal agencies forcing local jurisdictions to monitor floodplains for endangered salmon and steelhead prompted Marc Stauffer of Enterprise’s planning commission to learn everything he can about the impending rules. 

“Right now, I’m working to raise the public’s awareness,” said Stauffer. “I sent a 25-page document to several newspapers around the state, including John Day, Ontario, Medford, Bend, the Oregonian and the Statesman Journal.”

He said he has also talked to the offices of Rep. Greg Walden and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and members of the League of Oregon Cities, the Association of Oregon Counties as well at the National Association of Counties.

“The congressionals are trying to play catch up right now. Most had no idea this was occurring, but there had been some rumors,” Stauffer said. “They are aware of lawsuits in Oregon and Washington, but had no idea any kind of regulations were coming.”

Enterprise is one of the first to raise the red flag.

Mike Hayward, Wallowa County board of commissioners chairman, said FEMA brought up new regulations a couple years ago that had to do with the National Flood Insurance Program, which centered around rates going up and federal subsidies going away, causing flood insurance premiums to go through the roof.

Within the last two weeks, Merkley fought to keep subsidies in place. The legislation passed the Senate and awaits approval in the House of Representatives.

Hayward said the Endangered Species Act has affected industry, but now if these new rules are implemented, the act will affect everyone.

“We have had (Endangered Species Act) issues for a long time and they affected various segments such as timber, ranching and farming,” Hayward said. “This is one that potentially impacts the general public, not just little towns in Eastern Oregon, but big cities throughout the state. This is kind of an equalizer. If some guy who owns a lot in Portland is told he can’t develop that because he is in a floodplain he might ask, ‘What do you mean I can’t build?’”

Hayward said as far as he knows there is no federal money available to support the cities to take on permitting and regulation of floodplains to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

“I’m unaware of any new money that’s going to come with this to help the city or county administer this thing.  Resources spent on this will be taken away from other services,” he said.

Bill Enslin of Joseph’s General Land Office said he’s been in conversation with realtors around the state as well as Christine Shirley of the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development. He said the real estate industry has been dealing with new FEMA regulations for some time.

“Flood insurance rates have gone out of sight and we’ve been dealing with floodplain maps, last updated in 1988,” Enslin said. “Nobody’s sure how accurate they are, but almost all of Enterprise is in a floodplain.”

Enslin said a webinar presented by Shirley is on the calendar for March 19 to help realtors explain potential regulations that could be part of a lawsuit settlement concerning land ownership in floodplains.

Stauffer said when he first spoke to Enterprise officials the response was they weren’t going to be able to comply with the new regulations. 

“First we said, ‘No, this is not something we are going to do and second we have no inclination to do this,’” Stauffer said. “We are very concerned about the potential new rules, the cost to the economy, property values and the expense to the local jurisdictions. The effects on property rights and local customs are unacceptable.”

If the city does not choose to participate, it would no longer be in compliance with Goal 7 of the state’s land use plan and would risk not being able to buy flood insurance.

“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Stauffer said. “It’s one more unfunded mandate. Trying to pass the buck to local jurisdictions.”