Guest opinion: Proposed ordinance could hurt riverfront homeowners

Gary Vick.

The Proposed Riparian Ordinance has not been properly justified.

An Amendment to the City’s river setback ordinance will be voted on by Glenwood Springs City Council Thursday evening. The Amendment puts severe restrictions on the use of private land along the waterways in Glenwood Springs. It has not been shown to be necessary and degrades the ability of affected homeowners to use and enjoy their properties. It will seriously degrade the value of dozens of homes whose owners are doing nothing wrong. It answers a question no one has asked.

Friends of the Roaring Fork, an informal group of homeowners along the Roaring Fork in Glenwood Springs, believe that a healthy riparian habitat is critical to rivers in Glenwood Springs. Friends agrees with the former Chairman of the River Commission who, in a public meeting hosted by Friends on September 19, 2019, stated that “the Roaring Fork is actually in pretty good shape.” Friends opposes the Amendment.

Friends believes that before the City usurps property rights of landowners via a clear government taking, the City must meet a high standard to demonstrate benefit for that taking. The cost of the Amendment to property owners is potentially tens of million of dollars. Neither the City nor the proponents have shown corresponding benefit and have not forwarded even a cursory cost/benefit analysis to support the Amendment.

Proponents have made only general, non-scientific claims to justify the Amendment. Friends have rebutted dozens of these claims in submissions to the City and address some of the most frequently heard claims below.

Proponents claim the Amendment is needed to prevent destruction of riparian habitat by development or redevelopment of existing properties. There is virtually no undeveloped river property left in Glenwood Springs, and cases upriver where redevelopment allegedly destroyed habitat could have been discouraged — and rectified — had local ordinances been enforced. Proponents may feel it splashier to legislate new laws on entire cities whose citizens are doing nothing wrong rather than strongly encourage enforcement of existing codes. Friends believes that enforcement of existing codes are sufficient to prevent meaningful destruction of riparian habitat.

Proponents infer that the City’s secondary water intake on the Roaring Fork River must be protected in case the primary intake at No Name becomes unusable. Friends agrees, but the intake is not in danger and the Amendment will not make it safer. City reports show the intake and city water meet spec. The Roaring Fork is 70 miles long — longer with tributaries, and only four miles run through the City. For every 3,000 or so gallons of water flowing in the Roaring Fork, only 1 gallon has filtered into the river via Glenwood’s riparian habitat. Any problem with 3,000 gallons of intake water is due to the 66 miles of river upstream and the 2,999 gallons that flow into the river from somewhere else. Proponents left that part out.

Proponents have inferred that the Amendment protects the temperature of the Roaring Fork and mitigates algae plumes, but no hard data is presented to quantify how the Amendment would address these issues. Aren’t these issues more likely due to the 66 miles upstream from Glenwood Springs than the four running through it? If not, so demonstrate.

Proponents state the Amendment is necessary to help Glenwood Springs meet EPA stormwater runoff requirements that may go into effect as the City grows. These requirements apply only to point source discharge, i.e., to water collected by the City’s sewer system. Roughly 95% of the storm water in Glenwood Springs is collected by sewers and dumped, unfiltered and unceremoniously, directly into the river. Only about 5% of the storm water reaches the river through the riparian environment which filters it. Further cleaning of this filtered 5% would not clean the unfiltered 95% dumped from the stormwater drainage system, and the 5% is not regulated under point source discharge regulations anyway. The proponents left those details out.

Proponents state that the Amendment will not decrease, and may increase, property values. They so justify with a study, the author of which and a PhD statistician rebut. This claim is preposterous.

I could go on and on, but these are examples of the dozens of unsubstantiated claims made by proponents that are not justified or quantified in any scientific way. It is not up to Friends to show the Amendment is not needed. It is up to the City and the proponents to show that the high standard required for a government taking has been met. They have not done so. Council must not approve the Amendment.

Gary Vick is a resident of Glenwood Springs.

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