GarCo keeps water setback in building code

Garfield County commissioners plan to keep a construction setback from rivers and other water bodies after hearing concerns about the county considering weakening protections.

Commissioners Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson said they support retaining the 35-foot setback requirement, with the continued ability to waive that requirement as circumstances warrant.

“Most cases, I think 35 feet is a reasonable length,” Samson said.

The county has been revising its land use code with the goal of streamlining it and reducing redundancies with state and federal regulations, or with other parts of the county code. The new code proposal is the result of work by an advisory committee and the county planning commission. But some residents have voiced concern that the revisions cater too much to oil and gas and other business interests while giving up too much local control.

In addition, the Roaring Fork Conservancy objected to the proposed elimination of the 35-foot buffer zone from water bodies for many forms of construction, and other proposed changes including elimination of a requirement that hazardous materials, salt and sand generally not be stored closer than 100 feet from water.

The proposals also drew the attention of the Colorado Rural Water Association, a group representing public utilities. In a letter to the county, association source water specialist Paul Hempel noted that many communities in the county have been developing source water protection plans. He cited the threat that contaminants can pose to water supplies, and encouraged the county “to carefully consider how changes in land use codes can negatively affect the high quality of water and therefore public health throughout the County.”

According to the conservancy, Mesa, Rio Blanco and several other area counties all have some level of water body setback requirements for various types of construction.

Commissioner John Martin stood by the elimination of the 35-foot setback, saying it’s an “enforcement nightmare” due to so many exceptions being allowed.

He also thinks the requirement is a “taking,” noting that private property generally extends to the middle of rivers.

“We want to make this a public piece of property. It is not,” he said.

Jankovsky led the push for keeping the setback, and said the 100-foot buffer for hazardous materials also should be preserved.

He said he agrees with eliminating redundant provisions, but he also wants to show concern for protecting wetlands, “and that we’re not reducing that level of protection.”


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