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Official: Flood plan balances growth, restrictions well


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Columbus and Bartholomew County are moving closer to changing regulations about development in city and county floodplains.

Next week, the plan commissions for the city and county will act on the final recommendations from the Columbus and Bartholomew County Flood Regulation Study Committee.

The committee was tasked with reviewing floodplain regulations.

Some recommendations would increase regulations while others would decrease them.

If you go

WHAT: Bartholomew County Plan Commission

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. Wednesday

WHERE: City Council chambers, Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

WHY: To act on the final recommendations of the Columbus and Bartholomew Flood Regulation Study Committee, and make a recommendation to the Bartholomew County Council.

WHAT: Columbus Plan Commission

WHEN: 4 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: City Council chambers, Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

WHY: To make a recommendation to the Columbus City Council.

A nice balance was struck between prohibiting certain development, but not being too restrictive, said Mike Ferree, the county’s Purdue Extension agent and one of the committee members.

“We felt being able to have development where possible was important, but we didn’t want to get into the position where we limited future growth and the future of the community,” Ferree said.

One recommendation prohibits new development in floodways.

Another prohibits the construction of new critical and flood-sensitive facilities from locating in 500-year

floodplains.

However, expansions of existing facilities in the floodways and 500-year floodplains are permitted.

A 500-year flood plain indicates the ground elevation around waterways that floodwaters only have a .02 percent chance of reaching each year.

The Haw Creek flooding in the 2008 flood passed the 500-year flood mark, but flooding on East Fork White and Flat Rock rivers did not.

Recommendations to decrease local regulations would bring the city and county in line with regulations set by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

City Councilman Dascal Bunch, who served as the council’s liaison on the committee, agreed that the recommendations strike a good balance.

“Everything they did I think is right on,” he said.

Draft recommendations were presented publicly in the summer after the first hearing from the DNR, state climate office, local emergency responders and the Columbus Economic Development Board.

The committee members took in all the information and chose to what extent they wanted city or county regulations to exceed those of the FEMA.

The flood of 2008 that devastated large areas of Columbus and the county, and the discussion about the proposed outdoor sports complex project highlighted the need to further examine the issue of floodplain regulations, Ferree said.

The sports complex was to be built in a floodplain. Nearby residents were concerned about the impact of adding it into a flood-prone area.

A subsequent study of the Haw Creek floodplain showed that the sports complex was in an area that flooded in 2008. The project eventually died.

The city and county plan commissions joined forces to establish the study committee.

Restrictions passed in 2011 regarding construction in the Haw Creek floodway would supersede the committee’s regulations because they are stricter, Jeff Bergman, the city-county planning director, said previously.

Passage of the recommendations requires a few more steps: The recommendations are being written into the form of a proposed ordinance amending the current flood hazard area regulations found in the zoning ordinance, Bergman said.

The city and county plan commissions will conduct public hearings on those proposed zoning ordinance revisions and make recommendations on their adoption to the City Council and County Commissioners, who also must pass them.

Committee recommendations

Final recommendations of the Columbus and Bartholomew County Flood Regulation Study Committee for Columbus and Bartholomew County:

  • Prohibit new development in the floodway of all  streams. Expansions of existing facilities permitted with DNR approval. Represents increased regulation beyond DNR, FEMA minimum requirements.
  • Prohibit new critical and especially flood-sensitive facilities from locating in the 500-year floodplain. (Such as a nursing home). Expansions of existing facilities are exempt. Represents increased regulation beyond DNR, FEMA limits.
  • Make facilities that are potentially harmful to water quality and public health as a result of flooding conditional uses in the 500-year floodplain. Expansions of existing facilities exempted. Represents increased regulation beyond DNR, FEMA.
  • Support continued viability of buildings and uses in the 500-year floodplain, including the floodway, that are legal non-conforming (“grandfathered”). Represents decreased regulation. Follows DNR, FEMA minimums for structures damaged beyond 50 percent of the value must be elevated or flood-proofed. Also follows DNR, FEMA minimum that structures may be altered one time not exceeding 50 percent of their value before elevating or flood-proofing is required.
  • Be proactive in updating maps to address specific known and/or suspected errors.
  • Prioritize minimizing impact on flooding as a criteria in bridge design.

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