Incentives and enforcement rather than increased regulations appear to be the preferred method for protecting the Big Wood River and its banks.
Residents packed Ketchum City Hall Monday, Dec. 12, for a public hearing with the Planning & Zoning Commission on the floodplain management overlay zone ordinance.
"The existing regulations are confusing and hard to enforce," said Commissioner Jack Rutherford. "Part of this process is writing a new section of code we can enforce. My goal is that all homeowners would say, 'Now I know how to improve my riparian area,' and do it."
Representatives from the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust made a presentation discussing the importance of a healthy river and how development in riparian areas impacts water quality and fish health.
"We're here to encourage flexibility in future design and to (encourage the city to) create incentives to protect what we all value: the river," said Executive Director Scott Boettger. "It's not surprising with escalating property values that every square inch (of land) is built on. But is that the legacy we want?"
Two attorneys representing riverfront property owners, however, cautioned the city to proceed with caution.
"My clients ... are concerned about property rights and additional burdens being placed on them because of other people who have not been good stewards of the land," said attorney Ed Lawson.
He and others in the crowd called for more scientific evidence that encroachments on riparian areas have had negative impacts on the river.
"There's nobody who can say 25 feet of riparian zone isn't enough to adequately protect stream banks and to adequately protect wildlife in our area," Lawson said.
An initial suggestion by city staff to require a 100-foot setback from the river created an outcry from some developers and property owners. The city has since backed away from that negotiating position.
Blaine County mandates a 75-foot setback from the Big Wood River.
Several attendees said they hope the city would initiate an informational campaign to educate residents on how to protect riparian areas.
Many residents, as well as some commissioners, said enforcement of current regulations has been scarce.
"Most people react better to enforcement than education," said attorney Barry Luboviski. "There are a lot of things on your books that are not enforced."
Real estate broker Jed Gray, who helped write the city's initial floodplain ordinance, opted for heavy penalties to encourage compliance.
"(We need) stiff and continuous fines—$5,000, plus $1,000 per week until corrected—and utilize those funds for enforcement," he said.
Other ideas proposed were limiting the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and having the city review its own impacts on the river's water quality.
"I can't agree more with the enforcement issue," said Commissioner Anne Corrock. "We have to start there, with education and enforcement. We need to look at what we've got now and see where it's enforced before we make any changes."
The next meeting on the issue is scheduled for Thursday, Jan 12. A third public meeting will be scheduled after the January session.