November 1, 2022
November 3, 2022
Commissioners Scott Miller, Scott Blain; and Administrative Officer Angela Newell were present.
8:30 Pledge of Allegiance.
Kayla Desroches Yellowstone Public Radio in attendance.
9:00 Public Health Director Erin Cross met with Commissioners for her update. Reviewed her written report (attached). Blain moved to approve the revised job description for Public Health Nurse; Miller seconded; motion carried.
Blain moved to approve Commissioners Proceedings for September 29, 2022; Miller seconded; motion carried
Blain moved to approve transfer of Fire Impact Fees to Red Lodge Rural Fire as requested; Miller seconded; motion carried.
Blain and Miller agreed to waive the Liability Insurance requirement Lois Gibson a Forensic Artist.
Blain moved to accept the October 2022 financial reports for District Court, Clerk and Recorder, and Treasurer, and the Corrected June 2022 Treasurer Cash Report; Miller seconded; motion carried
Blain moved to approve claims for October 2022; Miller seconded; motion carried.
10:00 Nixon joined the meeting. Closed for legal strategy for regarding Shull and Bennett complaints.
10:30 Flood Response and Recovery Regulatory Discussion. Jeff Ruffatto Stillwater County Commissioner, David Stamey Stillwater County DES, Lt. Governor Kristen Juras, Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) Coordinator Cyrina Allen, Delila Bruno MT DES, Jeff Gates MT DES, Sheila Newman USACE Operations Chief, Denise Rivette Carbon County News, Chad Hanson Great West Engineering, Jim Bushnell City of Red Lodge, Courtney Long City of Red Lodge, Shala Cullum Bridger Town Council, Sharon Flemetis Stillwater/Carbon Conservation Districts, Will Downs Stillwater County Conservation District, Stephanie Criswell DNRC, Jason Garber DNRC, Trevor Watson MT FWP Fish Habitat Bureau, Traci Sears DNRC Floodplain, Shannon Blackburn MT FWP,
Bryan Giordano MT FWP, Sara Hartley MT DES, Shylia Wingard DNRC Floodplain, Eric Laux US Army Corps of Engineers, Richard Meyers FEMA R8, Lacey Breding Town of Fromberg Clerk, Edie Vinson-Maitlandt FEMA PA, William Coutret FEMA PA, Sage Joyce USACE, Tina Foust, and Colten Shimer USACE were present.
Bruno provided the meeting outline and noted the meeting was requested to have all permitting agencies in the same room to discuss flood recovery especially regarding debris in water ways. Bruno hopes that the meeting will identify easy wins that can implemented in the next couple weeks as well as long term solutions can be implemented to alleviate frustrations going forward. Representative from various agencies gave their introductions.
Blain noted the significant effort involved in getting this meeting to happen and hopes something comes of is. He emphasized that the volume of people in the room who are involved in solving issues with permitting work in the stream highlights the bureaucratic challenges. Blain emphasized that applicants are working with rules developed over the last 40 years that are not specific to the waterways in Carbon County. He noted the number one frustration from landowners is the requirement for specific engineering for each project when Conservation Districts have pre-engineered standard plans for various projects. Blain outlined his priorities. 1) would like to see less expensive solutions to managing the waterways as a resource rather than something administered by regulations and would like regulatory agencies to focus on ways to say yes to projects rather than ways to say no. Noted people managing and implementing regulations are not elected officials and are less directly accountable to taxpayers. 2) would like the option to use native rock that was deposited in the flood and push it up against the bank to reestablish the channel. Noted different rules for maintenance on irrigation apparatus (which allows to push the native rock within the creek) but can’t do similar work to other areas as maintenance. Requested Nat’l guard be utilized to help complete some of these projects.
Miller noted frustrations with continual assessments, surveys, pictures; he wants action. He noted landowners’ frustration in wanting to preserve the water as a resource and be stewards of that resource but feeling like they are not able to execute the fixes that are very apparent to them. Miller does not want FEMA to have to come back next year because the issues are not being fixed at the time of the year the work needs to be done. He noted the work will be delayed by high engineering costs and timelines associated with permitting processes.
Cogswell echoed Commissioners comments and noted constituents’ concerns and confusion about trees in the river. Some have received quotes to have the tree removed, received verbal approval to remove it, but has not received anything in writing and are concerned about threats of jail time. Cogswell has received mixed information regarding PA reimbursement for removing debris and the different rules that apply to different classifications of debris. Cogswell expressed concerns that the debris and changes to the creek bottom will result in flooding next year even with normal runoff. Also noted the data from the multitude of site visits and assessments has not yet been shared.
Stillwater Commissioner echoed comments noting that 3rd and 4th generation ranch families have never seen anything like this, have already lost significant land, and may lose patience with the permitting process.
Bruno requested agencies give a high-level overview of any permitting backlog they may have and other issues that have come to their attention.
USACE – Newman noted no backlog at this point. Starting Monday, they will be positioning staff in Stillwater, Park, and Carbon counties full time to address applicants concerns, fill-out applications, and do basic drawings. Requested Commissioners and Mayors help constituents understand their responsibilities as landowners. Applicants will need to be able to present as much specific information on their project as possible including what kind of equipment they plan to use. Staffed being placed will have some approval authority. Newman noted it is not USACE’s desire to deviate from the current processes in place out of concern that it could cause issues down the line. FEMA noted that permanent structures in the river have the likelihood of impacting the directed energy of the river; in one instance that was done and homes were lost in the runoff for the next spring. Emphasized that the desire is to build back resilient infrastructure.
FWP – Watson noted no backlog in 124 permits at this point, will continue to push permits through as quickly as possible (the last permit only took days to approve). Watson requested that specific spots and projects be identified. Noted need to have application completed before FWP can consider issuing a permit. Watson noted FWP has contracts in place to assist with backlog if it becomes necessary. Again, emphasized that the review timeline of 30 days has been much shorter in practice. FWP does not have permitting staff to place in counties but are staffed in Billings.
Bushnell noted the complications of individual permitting for each landowner throughout City limits for debris in the waterways.
DNRC – Criswell noted the State can provide some resources to Conservation Districts, but the individual Districts are in charge of permitting.
Conservation District. – Flemetis noted 177 Applications in Stillwater and 135 in Carbon were received. Approximately 90% of Stillwater’s applications were processed by the end of August; the last 10% have been processed in the last 6 weeks. In Carbon, 110 permits have been processed. Flemetis noted some land owners are lost in the process. Flemetis noted the Conservation Districts are locally operating and responsible to voters in the area and often act as a “store front” for permitting on waterways for USACE, Floodplain, and FWP. Flemetis noted they often have discussions with landowners regarding what they can do and what is likely to be permitted by other agencies. Administering NRCS EWP program and have 38 active projects with 24 projects submitted for funding and waiting on permits. Expressed concerns with funding timelines for EWP projects as it expires at the end of 2023.
Floodplain – Dringman noted the need for a one stop shop for help filling out the joint application completely; many delays in the permitting process are related to the necessary follow-up to get a completed application. Also noted delays with landowners not understanding that they need to send the joint application to each permitting agency individually. Dringman also noted delays because of State guidance that Floodplain Permits are not to be issued until all other permits are in hand; because of the noticing requirements for Floodplain permits this can extend the timeline for approval significantly. Dringman noted she used to be able to conditionally issue permits. For landowners, the biggest issues are the cost of engineering and the different definitions of what is considered debris. Now there is some backlog because they are now starting to get in permits for permanent work Dringman is focusing on contacting applicants with approved 310 permits.
It was noted the Conservation Districts are working on central repository for permits where all agencies can access permits. Noted manpower issues to follow-up with incomplete applications. Sharing information with other permitting agencies has been a big challenge (email servers don’t allow big enough attachments). Website shows all active permits for public viewing; other permitting agencies will have password protected access to a page with all the permit information and associated attachments.
Lacy Bredding – Clerk for Fromberg would like to see a more centralized approach to addressing issues without each specific item being individually permitted. Would like to make sure the focus is on the future of each community.
Discussion regarding coordination, tracking permits, and public information resources; Blain emphasized that the “quick guide” is one inch thick. Frustrations that there is not one-point person for each county to address the regulatory confusion and complications.
Blain emphasized that using standard processes and procedures for a historic event is not practical. Believes emergencies are best addressed when emergency work is allowed to be done and administered with local control. Compared it to lessons learned in COVID; that local resources need to be managed locally not regulated from the top down.
Watson clarified that there are in water work windows that FWP prefers, but have been made aware of the issue with Stillwater Mine access and have granted variances.
Miller requested criteria be provided that establish when the emergency ended and when the process changed from emergency notifications to full formal permitting. Noting that over the course of two days the rules changed on what could and couldn’t be done and requirements for a permit. Requested there be an “echelon” of what is and is not an emergency and who controls the designation. Discussion about both State and Counties still being under an emergency declaration.
FEMA noted the complexity of a catastrophic event where the dynamics of the waterway have been altered. Discussed resources that may be provided for bank stabilization and where State and Federal programs can come together on various projects.
Coutret agreed that it would be helpful to have a better idea of which agencies are working where. Coutret stated that debris, specifically woody debris including natural material and pieces of houses, is low hanging fruit. Would like to see everyone agree that woody debris can be removed. Noted the need for cooperation on how to address the reimbursement issues. What, where, who is doing it, and how. Newman agreed that some of those items should be able to be quickly resolved, but landowners need to make the ask.
Miller asked about riverfront through municipalities. Vinson-Maitlandt noted PA program does have circumstances where private property debris can be removed by a local government or state. Need to identify threat and justify the debris removal. Debris removed and redeposited, is sediment debris per FEMA.
FEMA noted work with permitting agencies and considerations for longer-term impacts of permanent work projects. Discussion about what constitutes and emergency and what is a temporary measure to protect a road until permanent work can be engineered. Noted various roads where minimal work was done so the road was passable for single lane traffic and then moved on to quick temporary measures in other places.
Vinson-Maitlandt noted nature of emergency protective measures are temporary to fix the road and the cost of removing the rock and placing a permanent fix will all be covered by FEMA PA.
Watson requested an evaluation of projects that still need emergency protective measures to be put into place and who will be responsible for the project. Local governments and landowners need to decide who will push projects forward, like the walking bridge in Red Lodge that the County took over as a PA project to protect infrastructure downstream.
Discussion of Debris Removal Task Force evaluation. Assessment was presented to the State with a cost estimate last week. Will get the evaluation to local jurisdictions next week, State will be driving this process and hoping to get a Request for Proposals issued quickly.
Blain asked how USACE views debris; affirmed rock bars, sand bars, and rock deposited in the event are confirmed that is considered debris.
Discussion about broad engineered solution and disagreement about whether or not engineering is more valuable than local knowledge of the waterways. Conservation District noted they require engineering when necessary, but agree that it is not universally necessary. Task Force needs to be boots on the ground.
Discussion about need for resource center for citizens, one-page fact sheets, project lists on what temporary emergency work that still needs to be done, discriminate debris assessments to local governments, and schedule follow-up meetings
November 3, 2022 (cont.)
on how each entity will move forward for the private property debris removal. Discussion about when that “muscle movement” will take place. Hartley noted would like to move debris through the winter. Also discussed the need to evaluate the disaster timeline as seen by permitting agencies. Discussion about various projects being addressed by each entity.
Newman noted staff placed in counties will be full time starting Monday. She is open to ideas on how to get the public to come in.
Discussion about coordinating messaging via State DES.
Respectfully submitted: Angela Newell, Administrative Officer