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Macon board plows into floodplain rules

The Macon County planning board signaled its intent this month to loosen rules on development in floodplains. 


Exactly how much to loosen the floodplain ordinance is yet to be worked out by the planning board and would ultimately require final approval by county commissioners.

An ordinance in Macon County prevents bringing in fill dirt to the floodplain — not even a bucket of dirt, let alone truck fulls intended to raise the elevation of low-lying sites when prepping for development. In a 7-2 vote, the planning board concluded the outright ban on fill dirt in floodplains is too strict, however.

The board is still discussing how to revise the ordinance.

“How we get from no fill to something everyone is happy with — we have to work through that still,” said Macon County Planning Director Matt Mason.

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The issue was brought to forefront of political discussion when parishioners from a church in Macon County expressed frustration to commissioners that they could not expand their parking into a floodplain. 

But once the planning board took the ordinance up for discussion, a firestorm broke out. Farmers in Macon’s fertile river valleys and environmental advocates spoke up in favor of protecting the role of floodplains — primarily to absorb floodwaters.

Yet, the planning board is pushing forward with possible changes, said Derek Roland, the Franklin town planner and the newly-elected chairman of the county Planning Board.

“We’re still moving through with reviewing the flood plain ordinance,” he said.

At the same time, Roland said the board is prepared for changes in state environmental laws that may render local floodplain ordinances null and void anyway.

Changes could also be made to the emergency evacuation protocols for mobile home parks in flood plains, and to how high buildings must be elevated above flood zones. Many of the measures in the ordinance were put in place following massive flooding in low-lying river valleys in 2004, both to protect emergency responders tasked with rescue operations and to protect structures from damage.

As far as allowing fill in the floodplain, Mason said he could see both sides. On one hand property owners may be restricted in how they can use their property for development. On the other hand, dirt in the flood plain can be flushed downstream or constrict the water channel during floods and thus affect neighbors downstream.

“So, I can see the pros and cons,” Mason said.

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