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City looking to revamp floodplain rules
By JAYSON JACOBY
Baker City officials are working on a revision of the ordinance regulating construction of homes and other buildings in the floodplain, but the changes aren't likely to have major effects for property owners.
In fact many of the estimated 550 people who own property within the 100-year floodplain won't be affected at all.
That's because the new ordinance, the first update of the regulations since 2002, will apply only to structures built after the amended ordinance takes effect, and to buildings that undergo major renovation, City Planner Jenny Long said.
For instance, the owner of an existing home in the floodplain would have to comply with the new rules only if a remodeling project cost more than half the home's market value.
City officials have scheduled a pair of public hearings regarding the proposed revision.
• Feb. 15, 7 p.m., Baker City Planning Commission.
• Feb. 28, 7 p.m., Baker City Council.
Both hearings will take place at City Hall, 1655 First St.
Updating the ordinance will have a significant benefit for residents who own property that's within the floodplain, Long said.
Doing so ensures that those residents continue to qualify for flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program.
That subsidized insurance is much less expensive than private flood insurance — often between $300 and $1,200 per year for the federal insurance, compared with $10,000 or more for private insurance.
The actual rates depend on how close a structure is, in elevation, to what's known as the "base flood elevation."
Mortgage lenders require homes in floodplains to have flood insurance, whether federal or private.
As for people building a new home in the floodplains, the proposed new ordinance adds two main requirements, Long said:
• The owner would have to pay a licensed surveyor to do one more inspection of the new home, and sign one or two additional elevation certificates.
Tom Hanley, a longtime Baker County surveyor, said he doubts that change would add more than a couple hundred dollars to the homeowner's bill.
• If a property owner, after building a new home in the floodplain or substantially remodeling an existing one, also builds a solid wooden or chain-link fence, the owner would have to make sure the fence complies with new standards.
The concern, Long said, is that a wooden fence, or a chain-link fence that gets clogged with flood debris, could act like a temporary dam, worsening a flood.
The proposed new ordinance would require fences to be either collapsible or hinged, she said.
The impetus for the new ordinance is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA, which sets floodplain boundaries, periodically revamps its rules, and the agency requires cities to follow suit, Long said.
Baker City adopted its first floodplain ordinance in 1980. It was updated in 1984, 1987 and 2002.
FEMA established the current floodplain boundaries in 1988. The proposed new ordinance would not change those boundaries.
There are about 700 tax lots within the floodplain. The vast majority are in one of four areas:
• South Baker City, in an area bordered on the east by Elm Street, the south and west by Highway 7, and the north by the railroad tracks.
• Adjacent to the Powder River through Baker City. Between the railroad tracks and Campbell Street, the floodplain generally extends only about 35 feet to either side of the river's edge. The floodplain begins to widen north of Campbell Street.
• A similarly narrow swath along Settlers Slough, which branches off the Powder River near the railroad tracks and then flows northwest through the west side.
• North Baker City. Much of the land between Hughes Lane and H Street, and between 9th Drive and Cedar Street.
The North Baker City area has more vacant land that is, or could be, open to residential development than the three other floodplain zones.
A map of the floodplain, as well as other information about the proposed ordinance, No. 3310, are available at the city's website, www.bakercity.com.
Residents can also look at the map and other materials at City Hall from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
More information is available by calling Long at 541-524-2028.