When the Carbon County Commission met on July 7, they probably didn't realize they would be talking about possible flooding in the middle of the driest month of the year.
"Last summer there was flooding in our neighborhood and I worry it is only going to get worse as they develop the land around us," Dione Kone, a resident of Westwood told the commission. "There was a thunderstorm and it ran off the undeveloped property into four or five yards in the area."
Kone said he had been concerned about the way things have been in the past, but became even more alarmed when he realized that the lots around new houses being built on that same property are being graded so that water flows into the adjoining properties.
"Any new development should be graded to provide drainage away from the other homes before new ones are built," he told commissioners.
Commissioners began to discuss the matter and wondered if the county's building code addressed the issue, but building and zoning director Dave Levanger pointed out that the way the code is written and adopted protects only the structure that is being constructed.
"The county adopted the international building code in the mid-1980s," he said. "It is written to protect the building being built, but not the land or property around it. It is a can of worms."
Levanger pointed out that the county's new building ordinances do address the problem, but since the lots that are being built upon were approved as a subdivision in the 1970s, the developer only has to adhere to the code as it was at the time the approval was made.
"Our new ordinances have no jurisdiction over the property," he lamented.
Commissioners seemed appalled about the lack of jurisdiction and wondered if there was a way to get drainage done properly in such cases.
"You mean to say that if I owned property where the approval was given 20 or 30 years ago I don't have to build to present building codes?" asked Commissioner Bill Krompel.
"The opinion from the county attorney's office is that once a subdivision is approved we cannot put other conditions on it besides those that existed at the time," Levanger told Krompel.
County attorney Gene Strate clarified Levanger's statement by saying that the legal opinion had to with total subdivision approvals, not with building codes.
"We can't go retroactive on subdivision plats," he said. "They have to build the structure according to the newer building codes, but do not have to make the lot adhere to new ordinances."
Commision Chair Mike Milovich, who revealed his daughters house was one of the structures flooded last summer, said that the commission needed to "nip this before we have more problems."
Levanger pointed out that he thought the county had two choices in how to solve the problem.
"The developer can grade the lots so that the water runs away from the houses or they can install storm sewer systems if that doesn't work," he stated.
Levanger also pointed out that when the county talked with the developer about the situation, he pointed out that Utah was a "buyers beware" state.
"With that this appears to be a civil matter," stated Levanger, referring to actions those that are having problems with the flooding could take.
Commissioner Steve Burge indicated he knows state statute authorizes the Utah water engineer to go in and stop situations that can cause flooding. But that when he checked with the personnel at state water engineer's office, "they said they wouldn't do it."
Kone recommended that the county consider having the buyers beware provision placed on any documents new home owners sign so the purchasers can check what they are getting into.
The commissioners made no decisions in connection with the matter, but the lawmakers said they would work toward finding a way to resolve the problem and similar situations in the future
In an unrelated action, he commission passed a drought resolution allowing the county to apply for grants and extra money because of the long dry spell that has marked the area.
"We have a very bleak picture, not only based on what has been happening but with what is predicted as well," said Rex Sacco, the county's lands and access coordinator. "As of June 7 the state's reservoir storage was at less than 50 percent and now it is at 30 percent. Scofield Reservoir is under 30 percent."
The commissioners also approved a pass through monthly payment of $1,333 by Active Re-Entry for the building near the fairgrounds. The agency is subleasing the building from the county and the payment is directly applied to the loan awarded by the Utah Permanent Community Impact Board two years ago.
The lease will be up in 20 years, when the county has paid for the building. The county then will allow Active Re-Entry to purchase the building for a low sum.