El Paso County Commissioners broaden power on stormwater, floodplain projects

August 6, 2013 Updated: August 6, 2013 at 6:15 pm

The El Paso County Commissioners Tuesday adopted the floodplain portion of a state statute that will give them a say in major projects that are undertaken outside the county's unincorporated areas.

Under H.B. 1041, the county can require permits for large-scale projects that impact county residents, even if the projects are in areas outside commissioners' normal jurisdiction.

In June, commissioners adopted 1041 rules regarding water projects, including domestic water and sewage treatment systems, site selection and construction of major public utilities facilities. But they delayed adoption of the rules on floodplains and stormwater to give county staff and others time to negotiate possible amendments.

Stormwater issues have taken center stage in the county recently. Flooding has occurred on U.S Highway 24 west of Manitou Springs, in Manitou Springs and in Black Forest, which was hit in June with the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. Flooding remains a threat to both the county and city because of Black Forest burn scars and burn scars caused by the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012.

"I think especially in this particular area, that we need to look out for the best interests regionally as it relates to impact on infrastructures and stormwater, and it really requires us to all come to the table," said County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

The decision was not without critics, the largest being the city of Colorado Springs.

In a letter, the city said it was concerned that the county's adoption of the regulations would allow the county to exercise regulatory authority within the city "and the exercise of that authority intruding upon the city's Home Rule authority."

The city asked for an amendment stating that the regulations would not apply to development in incorporated areas already governed by a municipality's drainage and stormwater ordinances and guidelines.

"While we believe this substitute language represents a fair resolution of the matter which is acceptable to the council and mayor, it should not be construed as any acknowledgement of county regulatory jurisdiction within the city limits or as a waiver of the city' position," the letter said.

Instead, the county approved the rules with a new pair of options.

Under the first, the city could submit an application to the county for a one-time universal permit to address stormwater impacts in the county's unincorporated areas caused by development in the city.

Under the second option, the county would act as an outside review agency. Under this option, a project that has been approved in any municipality in the county and meets city stormwater criteria would receive a permit administratively from the county.

Developers in either case will not have to come in front of the county commissioners.

County officials said the rules would not impinge on the city's Home Rule authority, pointing out that the options approved Tuesday address that objection.

"I really think our mayor and city council members don't have anything to worry about," said County Commissioner Peggy Littleton.

"There's nothing in there that's going to be egregious or stepping on toes."

Next, the county will consider the adoption of 1041 powers for transportation projects.

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