This may affect development and rebuilding around our multiple waterways for years to come.
Gallatin County updates floodplain regulations
By Perrin Stein Bozeman Daily Chronicle 2/23/2021
Gallatin County is revising its floodplain regulations in response to a new federal study and updated maps of the Gallatin River and Bozeman Creek and its tributaries.
The county commissioners will consider whether to adopt the new regulations at two meetings — one on Tuesday and one on March 16. If approved, the new regulations will go into effect by April 21, as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The new regulations differ substantially from the previous regulations, which last went through a major revision in 2011, and are based on recommendations from the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
“We’re looking at maintaining our stream corridors and functioning floodplains to prevent flood damage,” said Floodplain Administrator Sean O’Callaghan when presenting the new regulations to the county commissioners on Tuesday.
The update has garnered some public interest due to its connection to a controversial development proposed in the floodplain in Gallatin Gateway.
Protect the Gallatin River, a group of Gallatin Gateway landowners and conservation groups that formed in opposition to the construction of a glampground on the island west of the Mill Street bridge, launched an online petition on Saturday calling for clearer and more specific rules regarding floodplains.
“We hope to add/edit definitions and clauses to the existing regulations document for the express purpose of providing more well defined definitions, omit gray areas, remove opportunities for creative interpretations and ensure that the fragile floodplain and floodways are more closely protected,” said the petition, which has collected about 200 signatures.
Jeff Pfeil, the developer of the glampground, told the commissioners on Tuesday that he supports efforts to protect the floodplain while also allowing some uses in the area.
“There are a lot of campgrounds out there right now that are in floodplains, maybe not in Gallatin County, but generally throughout the state, and in some ways, I believe those are some of the most beautiful campgrounds there are,” he said. “… It’s something we should enjoy and protect.”
Many of the comments on the new regulations submitted to the county urge more specificity and stronger standards.
For instance, the Gallatin Watershed Council encouraged the commission in a letter on Friday to create minimum setback requirements for structures from waterways and more robust limits on removing riparian vegetation.
The county commissioners generally expressed hesitancy in making the guidelines too specific as they would like to be flexible and use discretion when it comes to managing the myriad development scenarios they face.
“I don’t think these one-size fits all things work very good for ordinances,” said Commissioner Joe Skinner.
The Gallatin County Planning Department published a draft of the new regulations on Feb. 11. Because there are only a few weeks before the county must adopt the new regulations, the commissioners likely won’t make major changes but could amend them in the future as long as they comply with state and federal standards.
“We don’t want to rush through or diminish public comment. We want to take it seriously,” O’Callaghan said. “I don’t want the appearance that we don’t care, but there is a timeline that makes it difficult to do this in a way I would prefer to do it.”