National Wildlife Federation VS FEMA Ruling
In a judicial action of interest to homeowners, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because FEMA was not following standards set forth in the Endangered Species Act. The Court found in favor of NWF. In the Puget Sound Region, FEMA was ordered by the Court to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to study the impact of this ruling on the Puget Sound Steelhead, Puget Sound Chinook salmon, Hood Canal summer-run chum, Lake Ozette sockeye, and southern resident killer whales.
The first question that comes to mind is, “How does building my little dream house next to the river affect all these fish?” That is exactly the task FEMA was charged with. According to NMFS, floodplain development adversely impacts these species unless remedial steps are taken to mitigate that impact. Prior to this court action, a building permit for your little dream house by the river could be obtained and the structure built provided certain conditions were met. For example, floor elevation had to be above the flood level; the foundation needed to be properly vented; machinery serving the building needed to also be above the flood elevation.
Since the Court decision, however, it was determined that your little dream house by the river reduces salmon habitat, limits fish refuge during floods, increases water blockage, and removes native vegetation. As a result of the Court decision, FEMA has to work with NMFS to provide reasonable and prudent alternatives (RPA in government alphabet-speak) to mitigate these impacts on the endangered species.
In Snohomish County, flood plain planners are grappling with the implications involved. One action that the local jurisdiction could take would be the prohibition of any development within a 100-year flood plain (good-bye dream house by the river). This is a rather draconian answer, so the local jurisdictions are working to establish mitigation procedures to allow continued development in the flood plane.
For the property owner, this may include following Low Impact Development guidelines and on-site planting of native vegetation. For the local jurisdiction, this may involve larger scale fish habitat improvement and planting of native vegetation along stream and lake banks. Flood plain development codes will need to change to address the lawsuit. So the end result could be that you may or may not be able to build that dream house by the river.
If you are able to build that dream house, there may be many more hoops to jump through before you can build it and move in. It is extremely important that the homeowner work with the designated public official (planner and/or inspector) to properly conform to these confusing new regulations that have and will be coming down the pike.
If you have questions regarding these matters feel free to contact us.