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Right Hand Doesn’t Know What the Left Hand Is Up To

August 29, 2010

One impetus for the All-Hazards approach to mitigation has been our experience with sometimes conflicting local-state-federal efforts on the public’s behalf.  Often it’s one local effort conflicting with another local effort.  The perfect example is one agency promoting development in a floodplain, which by definition one might think is inappropriate.

What part of “do not build in the floodplain” do people not understand?

As with all public policy issues, the question is seldom so clear.  Many of our cities were first built near rivers, so that’s where the infrastructure is, where the established neighborhoods are.  Folks concerned about livability and quality of life and sustainable development advocate for less sprawl and more compact development.  That’s where the “is” is in many American cities.

An article in today’s Fort Collins Coloradoan illustrates the conundrum.  Fort Collins is a progressive city on Colorado’s Front Range north of Denver.  I used to work there, it’s a great place that’s had some hard times (why I don’t work there anymore).  The Poudre River runs north of downtown, a classic western braided stream.  Dry Creek is a (mostly) dry drainage that flows into the Poudre.

For much of the past decade, city government has invested millions of dollars, time and energy to help revitalize North Fort Collins.

It spent $10 million to shrink the Dry Creek floodplain, clearing the way for more development along North College Avenue. It created an urban renewal authority that allows the use of tax money for infrastructure improvements, and it recently paid $1.4 million for 9.25 acres between Conifer Street and Vine Drive, the first building block of a $10 million stormwater drainage project.

North Fort Collins businesses say all that work could quickly be undone in the next four months.

I drove North College to work most days and the area really needs some TLC.  It also straddles the Poudre River floodplain.

On Wednesday morning, those same business owners blasted City Council for considering a water board recommendation to prohibit building within the city’s 100-year floodplain, including much of the property along North College Avenue.

Current standards allow for some building with the Poudre River’s 100-year floodplain. A 100-year flood is defined as an event that has a 1 percent chance of happening in a given year.

“It’s very hypocritical that the city would spend millions of dollars to do all these plans to mitigate the floodplain, then turn around to take X number of acres from buildable inventory,” said Greg Woods, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Group that helps advise the council on North Fort Collins development issues.

Fort Collins faced a deadly flash flood a few years back on Spring Creek, which runs thru the Colorado State University campus and the central part of town.  Most days most people wouldn’t realize Dry Creek or Spring Creek were much of anything.  Yet flooding is a real and constant risk.

The city’s floodplain administrator, Marsha Hilmes-Robinson, said Fort Collins has some of the toughest floodplain regulations in the state, but it will not be enough to protect life and property in the event of major flooding along the Poudre, she said.

It has been more than 100 years since the Poudre had a major flooding event, but heavy rains hitting snowpack in Poudre Canyon could have catastrophic effects downstream, she said.

“It could be devastating.”

Fort Collins spends a lot of time and money working on water and drainage management.  The City is an active participant in the Community Rating System.  Yet even after seeing the death and destruction flooding can bring, some people don’t buy our argument to just stay out of the floodplain.

Staff, Manvel said, gave its recommendation on the best way to protect lives and property and that is to not build in the floodplain, he said.

“That is kind of a floodwater management ideal. People think flood, shmud, it’s not going to flood anything,” Manvel said. “But apparently that’s not true. If we had another event like we’ve had in recorded history, a good part of North College could have water on it, and that’s not safe.

“The issue is important enough that it deserves full consideration,” Manvel said.

There are some very difficult issues to consider dealing with development regulations.  There’s public health and safety.  There are also constitutional protections against public takings of private property without just compensation.

In a strongly worded letter to the council Tuesday, NFCBA said the issue “appears to be a solution looking for a problem. We know of no current or past issues that would affect this corridor – remember the last great flood was on Spring Creek, not the Poudre River corridor.

People concerned with All-Hazards Mitigation have a lot to do to get the message across.  The flood water doesn’t care where it goes.  WE have to care how we best get that message across, and a good place to start is getting the right hand and left hand of public policy working better together.


From → Natural Hazards

One Comment
  1. Follow-up to this story at Fort Collins Coloradoan:
    “Proposed changes to floodplain regulations for the Poudre River through Fort Collins continue to stir emotions, with opinions on the need for and fairness of the rules depending on one’s point of view.”

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