The Blaine County Commission treaded muddy water this week as it gathered public comments on its new riparian setback ordinance, a part of its 2025 package of land-use laws.
The commission eventually clarified language within the ordinance to establish a working definition of "riparian zone."
The proposed riparian area management plan will allow for approval of developments within the recently increased setbacks, based on specific criteria and mitigation procedures. Commissioners agreed to exempt platted lots as well as "lots of record" up to two acres in size from the new ordinance.
Commissioner Tom Bowman recognized the limits within the ordinance in addressing every concern, suggesting that such issues would find their way to the Planning and Zoning Commission during the subdivision process.
"At some point we have to say this is good enough and move on", he said.
A final draft of the ordinance will be available for public review and a vote on Nov. 2 at the Old County Courthouse.
Throughout its discussion, the commission focused primarily on the presence of riparian plant communities as the defining characteristic of a riparian area.
Trent Stumpf of Sawtooth Environmental Consulting pointed out that in 98 to 99 percent of cases, aerial photography and fieldwork will successfully define riparian areas.
Attorney Barry Luboviski expressed concern for areas where river movements have rendered the standard setbacks unfair to property owners.
"There are places where you have a 6-foot sage-covered cliff running for a mile along the river, yet the riparian setback remains the same," Luboviski said.
Wildlife Overlay proposed
The anticipated unveiling of a Wildlife Overlay District to the County Commission occurred without long-overdue Idaho Department of Fish and Game wildlife survey maps.
"I am a bit disappointed," said Commissioner Tom Bowman. "They were promised back in April."
Under the proposed ordinance, Fish and Game maps will provide for an initial assessment of proposed development plans on area wildlife.
Commissioners accepted public comments on the P&Z recommendations nonetheless.
Comments covered habitat assessments, wildlife surveys, buffer zones and the establishment of conservation plans for developments over two acres in size. County Planner Jeffrey Adams said of the ordinance, "This will be difficult to administer."
The complexities weren't lost on Bowman.
"What's going to happen in areas where there was once a wildlife area and now the farmer has 50 elk coming down and eating his alfalfa?" he asked. "Does he need to draw up a conservation plan?"
Kathryn Goldman of the Wood River Land Trust made new recommendations regarding the length of breeding seasons of sage grouse and nesting raptors and advised allowing for 600- to 1,000-foot-wide migration corridors for elk and mule deer, rather than merely recognizing "winter ranges." She also recommended peer review for any conservation plans devised under the new district.
The commissioners discussed possible development application processes, which could take place in several stages.
The county's deputy prosecuting attorney, Tim Graves, advised relieving the county of administrative approval in order to streamline the process, leaving a large part of the responsibility for administering a Wildlife Overlay District on Fish and Game.
A new draft of the ordinance will be available for public review on Wednesday or Thursday of next week.