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News Floodplain ordinance to stay as is for now

Planning Board members discuss fill in the floodplain at their latest meeting. Pictured, from left, are Susan Ervin, Peggy Patterson, Lamar Sprinkle, County Planner Matt Mason, Town Planner Derek Roland, Joe Deal and Mark West. Photo by Travis TallentPlanning Board to consider surplus county properties.

The Macon County Planning Board held its monthly meeting on August 15 to discuss the ongoing issue of the floodplain ordinance.

As a result of a request made by Wells Grove Baptist Church, county commissioners tasked the board with looking at possible changes to the ordinance. The current ordinance disallows the use of fill in a floodplain.

At last month's meeting only two members of the board, Mark West and Joe Deal opposed changing the ordinance to allow property owners to fill areas in the floodplain. The board decided to meet again to discuss ideas for moving forward, but as a result of North Carolina House Bill 74, that discussion will not take place.

According to Chester Jones who serves as attorney for the county, the bill imposes a “temporary and limited moratorium” on the passage of any environmental ordinances by cities and counties and directs that a study be conducted by the Environmental Review Commission on when cities and counties whould be authorized to adopt environmental ordinances which are more stringent than State or Federal law.

“The temporary and limited moratorium expires Oct. 1, 2014,” said Jones. “The temporary and limited moratorium is not an 'across the board' moratorium and is, in fact, limited given that it provides authority to a city or county to adopt an environmental ordinance if the ordinance is approved by a unanimous vote of the members present and voting. Therefore, it will take a unanimous vote of the members of the board of county commissioners present and voting to pass an environmental ordinance.”

In a letter written to commissioners by Jones, he urged the board to consider waiting to pass any changes to the floodplain ordinance

“It may be wise for the county to wait to study and possibly consider any such amendments until this temporary and limited moratorium created by HB74 has expired and the N.C. General Assembly has again considered this issue and made decisions which will provide further guidance to the county as to what they will or will not be allowed to do in regard to such regulation,” said Jones.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law earlier this month.

“After talking with Chester Jones [County Attorney] and Jack Horton [County Manager], we have been advised to leave the ordinance as it is until October 2014,” said County Planner Matt Mason. “The commissioners have discussed it, they know what's going on with the bill and they ultimately think we should leave it where it's at for now.”

In past meetings, members of the community have come out to urge the board to keep the ordinance as it is citing studies showing the damage that filling a floodplain could cause downstream to other pieces of property. Local farmers pointed to the destruction of fertile land and the inability for land to regress to its former state once fill is added. One farmer, who is also a volunteer fire fighter told the planning board of the dangers that can occur when water can no longer enter into a flood plain that acts as a resevoir for overflowing river waters.

“People will have to be evacuated. Flooding will happen and we are putting our citizens and emergency personnel at risk,” Kenneth Mc- Caskill told the planning board back in May.

Most on the board understood the concerns expressed, but ultimately felt that a property owner should be able to decide what he or she wanted to do with their land and therefore voted to move forward with changing the ordinance. After months of listening to the public and discussions about the issue, the planning board will take a step back and focus on the surplus of county properties in the next few months. The commissioners requested that the board consider the properties and possible uses for ones that are not currently serving a purpose.

Discussions will proceed at the next meeting that will take place on Sept. 19 at 4 p.m. at the Health and Human Services Building.


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