BISBEE — It’s been 10 years since the Cochise County Floodplain Management Ordinance has been updated, and many of the current rules and regulations are not in compliance with state and the Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) and the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) requirements.
To rectify those differences, which were pointed out to the county’s floodplain staff by FEMA during a recent visit, Interim Community Development Director Karen Riggs presented the mandatory changes to the Cochise County Board of Supervisors at the meeting Jan. 29.
The changes are necessary to meet compliance issues and to be more definitive as to the exact requirements for property owners and commercial development when building within a special flood hazard area, she explained.
“They pointed out to us that there were several provisions of the current floodplain regulations that were not in conformance with the National Food Insurance Program,” she said.
It is not only important for the county to update the ordinance due to the state and FEMA changes, but also to help residents obtain a five percent discount on flood insurance, she noted. In fact, the update could boost that discount to 10 percent through the Community Rating Service.
“As a member in good standing of the NFIP, residents are allowed to purchase subsidized flood insurance. That includes all residents of the county,” she said. “If we were not a member in good standing, our residents would not be able to purchase flood insurance … probably making it impossible to sell property in a floodplain, because lenders are requiring flood insurance for sales. So, there’s a number of reasons to remain in the NFIP.”
The changes to the ordinance were minimal, she added. A few provisions were rewritten to make them easier to use and some definitions were clarified as was the permit process.
These changes include defining drainage design standards, river and basin management plans, riparian preservation and mitigation standards, environmental protection, and other land-use plans.
The list of dependent cities was left out so that the ordinance would not have to be amended if there were additions or omissions in the future, she continued. Individual agreements already exist between the county and the dependent cities.
The current FEMA flood maps have been updated and incorrect references have been corrected in the new ordinance.
“Also, the provisions for construction requirements are further defined to help alleviate confusion regarding the application of the ordinance. Setbacks and areas for development are better described to eliminate confusion,” she stated.
Another section required by FEMA provides a way for people to appeal or request a variance when they believe the construction standards are overly stringent or inappropriate, she noted.
“The new version has been re-written to provide a better understanding of the appeal process,” she continued. “The county attorney reviewed and approved this section, as well as all others, due to the legal requirements and liabilities.”
The biggest change is the format which mimics the ADWR statewide model which makes it easier to deal with that agency and FEMA.
“Though the format looks different, the requirements are all essentially the same,” Riggs said. “This current draft reflects needed changes and would put us in good standing with FEMA, NFIP and ADWR.”
Supervisor Richard Searle asked why the penalties and violation sections for building in a floodplain without a permit were removed from the ordinance.
County civil attorney Adam Ambrose said, “The statutes themselves have very specific procedures for appeals and enforcement and penalties. And, so, we incorporated references to those statutes in the ordinance in anticipation of the fact that they may change … and we can keep it current if they do change.”
Riggs added, “Guidelines for violations and enforcement as provided by law are further defined in the new ordinance. This section is a FEMA requirement.”
FEMA and ADWR have reviewed the new ordinance and found it to meet their requirements, Riggs added.
The supervisors approved the changes unanimously.