One Size Does Not Fit All in Setback Debate

By Beacon Staff

As a former and past president of the Flathead County Planning Board and a professional engineer, I have participated and been involved with the stream setback proposal being pushed by Flathead County. I am the vice president of the Montana Environmental Consultants Association, a group of about 15 members consisting of professional engineers and professional environmental consultants. I am a longtime member of the Association of Conservation Engineers and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Montana Society of Engineers and I hold professional engineering licenses in Montana, Washington and California.

At the Oct. 18, 2007, Planning Board meeting on the stream setbacks, I testified that the flawed proposal being propagated by Flathead County is not based on science. The proposal consists of a one-size-fits-all proposal. The proposal has the exact same setback proposed for streams regardless of the specific characteristics of the stream, drainage area, riparian area and geological characteristics of the stream and area near the stream. It is apparent that the numbers proposed were pulled out of the air or copied from some other jurisdiction than Flathead County. Without that site-specific scientific data, these arbitrary setbacks should not be adopted, nor can they be legally defended.

Pulling arbitrary numbers out of the air or copying setbacks from other counties or states is not scientific and will not be accepted by the scientific community or the public. I would suggest that Flathead County scrap this effort to convince the public to accept this flawed proposal.

This flawed stream setback fiasco is being pushed by nonprofit activist groups and government bureaucrats. Government biologists who support this proposal are claiming that the setbacks need to be based on biology. They claim that they have biological studies that justify these arbitrary one-size-fits-all stream setback numbers. I wonder if their biological analysis is as good as it was in the late 1970s during the Kokanee Salmon-micy shrimp fiasco that destroyed the salmon fishery in Flathead County.

I did not attend the Nov. 1, 2007, Planning Board workshop where two government biologists testified. I did talk to several people who did attend that workshop and their opinion was that the government biologist’s testimony was disappointing and amateurish and had little if any real science behind it.

Many believe that Flathead County does not have the statutory authority to adopt such a flawed proposal and they may be right. But if Flathead County adopts a proposal that is not legally or scientifically defensible, there will be much trouble ahead for all of us.

Jeff Larsen lives in Lakeside