Beaverhead County floodplain map approval delayed

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A long effort to update Beaverhead County’s floodplain maps will now take longer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Approval of floodplain maps requires public hearings, and the nature of viewing the maps and answering people’s questions is very difficult without face-to-face meetings, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation representatives Tiffany Lyden and Nadene Wadsworth told the Beaverhead County Commissioners June 22. The DNRC and county floodplain officials planned on having in-person public hearings this year all over the county, but the coronavirus changed that.

“The copies of the floodplain maps were sent to us a couple months ago. We were looking at setting up public meetings and hoping to have the first one in May, then COVID set in,” county Floodplain Administrator Rob Macioroski said.

DNRC staff are working from home as much as possible as indicated in state guidelines for phased reopening. Holding a public hearing over Zoom video conferencing does not seem practical in this situation, Lyden and Wadsworth said, though they are attempting to do it in smaller communities in other parts of the state.

“We’re adapted to those (conference calls), but in the public it’s chaos,” Commissioner Tom Rice said.

The DNRC held a public meeting last year with Dillon City Council over the draft maps, and they wanted to do something similar with the commissioners and county residents. There were approximately 65 people in the room for the city hearing, so they expect a large turnout wherever they hold the meetings. Having that many people in a room could run afoul of reopening guidelines for social distancing and maximum capacity of venues.

DNRC officials said they could attempt to get permission to do the meetings in person. But without that permission, the meetings may have to wait until next year.

If the public meetings must wait, Macioroski said final approval of the maps may not happen until 2022.

The commission agreed it might be best to wait for now despite the delay. DNRC officials will see how the smaller gatherings and public hearings around the state work before deciding how to move forward with Beaverhead County’s map approvals.