It was just a 15-second video clip of a skid steer pushing bright red clay from a residential construction site into the dark waters of Fish River, but Baldwin County Planning Director Matthew Brown said it was indicative of a broader problem. Throughout its booming recent growth, Baldwin County has lacked the authority to ensure erosion-control measures are used in flood-prone areas and as a result, water quality has suffered from excessive siltation.
After introducing the video during a work session in September, Brown told the Baldwin County Commission the county’s flood-prone areas are historically the jurisdiction of the state of Alabama or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Previously, if the county was aware of potential violations, all it could do was report them to other authorities.
Last week, the commission approved a resolution establishing a new land disturbance ordinance for flood-prone areas, “designed to help control filling, grading, dredging and similar land disturbance activities, which may increase flood damage or erosion, by applying the land disturbance requirements of the Baldwin County Zoning Ordinance within areas displayed on a new hydric potential map.”
“If they are doing land disturbance activities in one of those areas, they would have to get the same land disturbance permit under the zoning ordinance,” Brown told the commission last week, adding the measure would ensure the county has “a means of making sure folks aren’t dumping soil right into these waterways.” In September, Brown said the map would cover “any areas or land that have a probable exposure to flooding.”
Although a detailed digital map was not immediately available, the print copy appears to encompass a large portion of Baldwin County previously unregulated by land development ordinances. According to the resolution, staff drew the map by evaluating “hydric soils, potential wetlands, U.S. Fish and Wildlife wetlands and the FEMA flood-hazard areas.”
The resolution added the Alabama attorney general “has previously advised that an ordinance regulating land use under this section can apply to ‘flood-prone and limited non-flood-prone areas, which are adjacent thereto and necessary to accomplish the purposes and provisions of the statute.’”
Although an estimate wasn’t available, the resolution noted there will be a financial impact to the county, “with staff time required to process these permits, perform random site checks and carry out enforcement actions when a violation occurs.” Some of the costs will be offset by a $25 land disturbance fee levied on each permit.
At a public hearing before the Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Commission in October, Brown clarified the ordinance applied only to land disturbance; vertical construction is covered by the county’s land-use certificate process.
“It’s a little bit odd because we’re basically choosing to marry two procedures with the same title and the same rules so there’s not duplication, but it won’t be under the zoning ordinance, it will be under a new ordinance,” he explained.
No member of the public spoke against the proposal at either meeting, and it passed both commissions unanimously.
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