CCCD board members reflect on Common Ground meeting

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Phil Nardinger

The “Finding Common Ground” meeting held on Thursday, Oct. 26, did not fulfill its purpose according to Carbon County Conservation District (District) Chairman Phil Nardinger and Treasurer Greg Schlemmer. The District conceived it for floodplain law clarity and discussion. The District sent out notices to contractors, producers, realtors and District members. Karl Christians, CD Bureau, would make out the agenda. Nardinger would chair the meeting.
Nardinger said, “The Commissioners took over the meeting! It was a presentation. It was good to get clarity but we expected at least an hour of discussion.”
Discussion occurred about the last 20 minutes.
Schlemmer said, “It was supposed to be ‘Finding Common Ground!’”
Nardinger is frustrated. “We have as much power as the commissioners-they said that in the meeting. We can write resolutions.”
He said, “No public discussion. They shut it down. Time’s up. They said, ‘Oh, we’re done.’”
He noticed, “The Commissioners got out of there as fast as they could. The Flood Plain Director was gone.”
Questions remained. “An engineer in the audience wanted to know, ‘What do you guys want?’”
Schlemmer said, “So when an engineer can’t figure out what the Flood Plain Director wants…”
Nardinger said, “They kind of had an idea but no one really knows so we’re back to square one. It was the most unproductive meeting. The only thing they got across was they’re not going to work with us and FEMA is in. That’s fine, but when engineers don’t know what’s going on or you’re not even polite enough to tell him what to do...”
Both men felt an attitude in the meeting that was not cooperative.
For Nardinger, it was the continuation of difficulties in working with County Flood Plain Administrator Juarez. “We had to get the Commissioners on him to call us back!”
Juarez, who is also the County Sanitarian, told CCN earlier he’s “overwhelmed” doing numerous health inspections. When Juarez failed to call CCN back citing work through year’s end, CCN said it was unreasonable. CCN got the call. The list of engineers referred to by Juarez in the meeting came from the District.
Schlemmer said, “And we’re supposed to be working together.”
Schlemmer said, “It’s going to be costing everyone in Carbon County money. Everybody that has water including a well. Now engineers can charge whatever they want-like health insurance because it’s required.”
There are many unknowns. “What they’re going to require you to do is all this engineering- like Rock Creek. What happens when Rock Creek next year moves 100 feet away and people paid all this money to pay engineers?”
Schlemmer fears farmers and ranchers will seek their own solution. “Pretty soon it’s going to be a wreck. People will go out in the middle of the night and do what has to be done.” Already there is a drop in stream permit meetings from 10 to one a month.
Nardinger says, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. They think you’ll do more damage by tearing it out than leaving it, might get a small fine.”
The big question is, “Who’s going to enforce it? We’re not going to play the police for the Flood Plain Director.”
Districts are State agents, not federal, like FEMA. “Any violation we sent to him (Juarez); he doesn’t do anything,” said Nardinger.
He said, “There is no local control on our waterways anymore.”
Schlemmer said, “The Carbon County Commissioners are onboard with the Floodplain Administrator. They back him 100 percent, which is good.” But, the District also works with the Commissioners and “they just threw their whole team out. ”
He noted, “We can still do emergencies.”
Both men see the inexperience of the county, especially the commissioners appointed, not elected, as part of the problem.
He said, “It’s fear of liability. They’re afraid that FEMA (flood insurance) won’t cover the whole county. That’s what they tout.”
Nardinger has “no problem” with engineering on the structures because FEMA covers that but objects to “making everybody swallow that big price tag and you can’t get coverage. Lose 5,000 acres and FEMA won’t pay you back. No structure.”
Schlemmer had a ditch blown. He said farms usually budget $5,000 for ditches. But a ditch replacement can cost tens of thousands for engineering. “We’re going to have to take out a 30 year loan because the ditch came apart.” A hillside collapsed. “I was asked, ‘why didn’t you know that?’”
Similarly, Juarez asked Jim Burn why he had an “emergency” when a creek rose in July. It wasn’t peak time. Burn explained he had thousands of acres at stake and they did have high water.
Nardinger spoke about an emergency discussed. “Two main irrigation canals blew out and they said that wasn’t an emergency. I don’t know what you’d call 3-4,000 acres going dry-that’s an emergency.”
Schlemmer reflected, “Malt barely don’t get malt, corn don’t pollinate, sugar beets don’t grow…starts costing millions of dollars.”
Nardinger said the Resolution was signed June 5, committing the County to FEMA laws. “I felt kind of duped over that. The commissioners never told us about that. They kept telling us they’re going to work with us and it was already signed.”
Schlemmer said, “The impression I’ve got is, ‘Don’t worry boys, we’ll still work with you-like we’re some kind of boys’ club.’”
Nardinger said the timeline of FEMA laws requiring engineering is impractical for projects. “Up to 60 days for Flood Plain approval, District-up to 60 days, engineering…180 days before high water or a frozen creek.”
Schlemmer said, “That’s why people take their backhoe in the middle of the night."
Nardinger said, “We were built because nobody trusted government.” (The government told farmers to keep plowing and the dust bowl occurred.) In a way we’re losing a little bit more freedom. It’s going to be a free for all.”
Nardinger said they are a state agent. The FEMA regs are federal. “Any violation we sent to him (Josh), he doesn’t do anything. There is no local control on our waterways anymore.”
Schlemmer said, “We’re people who understand water. I’ve been irrigating for 30 years.” A new engineer “has no real work experience in how water works.” He said, “Farmers have to talk to someone who has no idea what they’re talking about. We were there for the landowners, for the community.”
Those who can’t afford engineering will likely allow ditches to deteriorate. It could bring floods or dry ditches-affecting up to 200 homes on a creek and their wells.
Schlemmer said, “If a home is 1000 feet from a creek, its well depends upon the ditch flowing. Should a farmer turn off his headgate at high flow, flooding will occur on other properties.”
Nardinger said one man wanted to remove a tree that had fallen in the creek. “Josh wanted engineering.”
Nardinger said, “It’s going to cost a lot of money. I think lot of crops are going to be lost-in waiting for permits and engineering. Homes too.”
Nardinger said District board members are resigning.
“We’ve already had one. I can think of two others who will resign.”
Schlemmer noted, “You can’t control the creek; you can manage it. You can’t control it.”
He concluded , “Until common sense prevails, it will revert back to the Old West. He concluded, “It comes back to protecting your property.”
Nardinger agreed, “You do have the right to protect your property.”


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