City manager Rebecca Davidson explains the intent behind a proposed flood ordinance at a public workshop held on Tuesday, July 14. [Photo by Eric Trenbeath / Moab Sun News]

Floodwaters surging through Moab’s watercourses can be made more dangerous by development including inappropriate fencing, as well as by the accumulation of debris on private property within the flood zone, say city planners.

But a proposed city ordinance that seeks to amend the Moab Municipal Code governing development in the FC-1 flood zone along Mill and Pack Creeks, has come under fire from private property owners and members of the Moab Area Watershed Partnership.

At a public hearing in the city council chambers on July 14, several people spoke against the ordinance saying that it was vague, overly restrictive, and didn’t put enough emphasis on creating a healthy riparian zone.

Local resident Stan Holland said at the hearing that the proposed ordinance didn’t protect landowner’s rights, and asked the city to define a clear process for what people could and couldn’t do along the flood-way.

“This code is un-American,” Holland told the council. “This sort of ordinance will only create more restrictions. Common sense should prevail over codes.”

The proposed ordinance is designed to reduce losses from flooding, and imposes restrictions and permit requirements for activities within the floodway including fencing, filling and dredging.

Additionally, the ordinance would require property owners to keep floodways clear of debris “such as fallen trees…construction materials, vehicles, or similar uses,” and would require written approval from the city floodplain manger for any clearing of native vegetation or for planting any new trees.

Arne Hultquist, watershed coordinator for the Moab Area Watershed Partnership urged the city to take more time with the ordinance and to come up with something that would protect property rights as well as the health of the riparian zones.

“Our (MAWP) major concern with the ordinance is that it does not address stream functionality,” Hulquist told the Moab Sun News.

Moab city planner Jeff Reinhart said that he has been surprised at the backlash from what was supposed to be simply a “housecleaning” document.

“We’re just trying to smooth out any wrinkles and bring it into compliance with the existing flood damage ordinance,” Reinhart told the Moab Sun News.

Reinhart said that most of the rules governing Moab’s FC-1 flood zone have been in effect since 1954, but that they are periodically reviewed and updated to comply with FEMA standards which make communities eligible for participation in the National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP).

The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the plan. To be eligible, participating communities must adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements that reduce the risk of flooding.

Moab is one of 212 cities and counties in the state of Utah that participate in the plan.

Moab city manager Rebecca Davidson told the Moab Sun News that even though the city is currently compliant with FEMA requirements, significant insurance discounts can be realized if higher standards are achieved.

“Part of the program means that flood-ways have to be kept clear,” Davidson said. “The gist of what we are trying to do is just make sure that permanent structures aren’t built in those areas.”

Much of Holland’s concern has to do with fencing. He and his wife Paige keep animals on their property which is zoned rural agricultural. They say the proposed ordinance which requires an engineering study for anything other than a barbed, or strand wire fence is overly restrictive.

Paige Holland told the Moab Sun News that she has researched all kinds of fencing guidelines from FEMA to a USDA manual on range-land management and that there are many acceptable types.

“Why not reference approved practices instead of requiring engineering,” she said. “They aren’t trying to help land owners achieve what they need to do. This ordinance renders seven acres of our property useless.”

The ordinance as written only allows fences in floodways if it can be determined through an

engineering study that they can satisfy a no-rise in base flood elevation. Exceptions can be made for barbed wire or for fences constricted in such away that they can be pushed over or ripped out early in a flood.

“We don’t want any permanent corrals down in there,” Reinhart said.

Additional public concerns surround the removal and planting of vegetation and the overall health of the riparian zone.

Kara Dohrenwend, owner of Wildland Scapes said she is concerned that gains made over the past 10 years in restoring native vegetation and clearing invasive species in riparian zones will be lost in a permitting process.

“I am also interested in seeing the creeks ultimately be flowing streams with riparian habitat, and want to be sure that the ordinances that control the area do not favor land management that makes the creeks drainages only,” she said.

Reinhart said that the health of the riparian zone is a separate issue from flood control.

“There may be contradictions at first,” he said.

Davidson said the city is hearing the public’s concerns.

“Public comment is going to help us create a better ordinance,” she said.

The proposed ordinance will come before the city council for approval at their next meeting on Tuesday, July 28 at 7:00 pm. The city will take public comments through Friday, July 24.

City says ordinance will reduce property loss and elevate compliance with FEMA standards

“This code is un-American. This sort of ordinance will only create more restrictions. Common sense should prevail over codes.”