Rebuild In The Flood Way Will Be A Challenge

By Joseph Lekarczyk
Noxious fumes from the new roof being installed on Town Hall drove the Tuesday night special Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting down the street to the Walt Self Senior Center (how do they work there during the day?). There was only one item on the agenda; whether or not to allow the Lyons Community Church to encroach on the CDOT right of along the

Main Street sidewalk to facilitate the construction of an ADA compliant ramp and entrance. What elected official is going to say “no” to that?

After a brief presentation/explanation by the architect Lou Thackston and church member Mark Boys, complete with unruly rolled up blueprints and detailed drawings, it was ascertained that the new ramp would not negatively impede walking traffic along the street, and the right of way was granted, with the contingency that CDOT also give its okay. The meeting was adjourned, and including the Pledge of Allegiance, the whole thing took less than sixteen minutes. My kinda meeting!

Then it was on to the workshop. The subject was “Flood Plain/Way Issues, Policies, & Ordinance 920” (which deals with building and rebuilding in those areas designated as such). Town Engineer Jim Blankenship started things off by letting everyone know that according to historical records there have been approximately eleven “significant” flood events in the town since these things started being tracked (the definition of significant was a little vague, but seemed to revolve around damage to homes/businesses). That works out to a little less than one flood event every fifteen to twenty years, on average. It was then pointed out that according to a governmental report, the last “major” flood event was 1969 (almost thirty-five years ago), and an “old-timer,” who shall remain nameless pointed out that there was the flood of “94,” which lead to a very brief discussion of the definition of  “major.”

The bottom line is that the standards for what constitutes a “hundred year” flood will presumably be changing when the data has been crunched and the new governmental flood maps are created (which it turns out could take some time, perhaps as much as three to five years). This “might” result in “some” homes that weren’t in the flood plain, being reclassified as in the flood plain, and some homes that were in the flood plain, being reclassified as in the flood way. Trustee Dan Greenberg, who has been on point concerning the housing replacement issue here in Lyons, wanted clarification from staff if the recommendation was to amend ordinance 920 to eliminate building in the flood way, institute a temporary moratorium on issuing building permits for the flood way, or to leave things as they are. Staff was reluctant to make any recommendations, but did point out that as the ordinance currently reads, if any of ten questions asked during the permit process cannot be answered “yes” then the permit will be denied. Administrator Victoria Simonsen and Blankenship indicated that at least two of the questions (one concerning emergency vehicle access during a disaster event) would be a definite “no” for certain homes in the confluence neighborhood. It was then rightly pointed out that during the flood, neighborhoods like Stone Canyon, Eagle Canyon,  Ewald, the High School area, and for that matter, the entire town were cut off from emergency vehicle access for varying lengths of time.

Then there was the thorn of “No Rise;” a nebulous term that has to do with proving anything that is built in the flood way will not cause an increase in water levels which might negatively impact surrounding properties or those located downstream. Newly accredited Flood Manager Jacque Watson indicated that this seemingly impossible hurdle could be overcome, if the applicant was “creative, and willing to spend money.”

Since everything about this issue is “muddy” (pun intended), uncertain, and probably subject to change, Greenberg made it clear that the most important thing was to explain these uncertainties (i.e., flood insurance increases, future sell-ability of property, quality of life, potential future changes in federal, state, and local laws, etc.) to residents who are contemplating rebuilds in the affected areas. It turns out there are at least forty-four properties that fall into this category, and nearly twenty two properties have indicated that they are not interested in a 404 buyout.

The reality is this is going to be a very complicated process, and each individual case will be different, and offer different hurdles to be overcome. Certainly some homeowners may not like what they are likely to hear.