Commissioners to hold another meeting on streamside setbacks

After a busy summer, the Madison County Commissioners are again set to take up the issues of streamside setbacks on the Madison River and its tributaries.

“At this point we just want to get some resolution to the whole issue, so that we can kind of put it behind us,” said Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel.

The commissioners are holding another public meeting about setbacks next Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 4 p.m. at the Madison County Courthouse.

The commissioners held a public hearing about setbacks in June at the courthouse. At that meeting about 100 people turned out to voice their opinion on the issue.

At that meeting commissioners said they hoped to reach a decision on setbacks by the end of the summer. However, that didn’t happen, largely due to commissioners having to divert their attention to other issues, Happel said.

“It’s just been a bugger of a year,” he said.

The county has been dealing with the topic of setbacks on the Madison River for about three years.

In 2008, the Madison County Planning Board and commissioners formed the streamside setback steering committee, which was a group of nine interested citizens. The committee held more than 20 public meetings, wrestling over the issue and finally issuing a recommendation to the planning board in October 2009.

The committee’s recommendation was a minimum 75-foot setback on the Madison and Jefferson Rivers with a 50-foot setback on all their tributaries.

However, during the year after the planning board received the committee’s recommendation it changed the setback distances, recommending Madison County Commissioners pass a setback that included a 500-foot jurisdictional area, 300-foot building setback and 150-foot streamside buffer zone. They also recommended leaving the Jefferson River out of the proposed ordinance. The planning board made their recommendations to commissioners a year ago.

Since the public hearing in June, the commissioners have heard a lot of comments encouraging them to make a decision on the issue, said Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz.

The commissioners are looking at both the planning board’s recommendation and the recommendation from the steering committee, Schulz said.

“We need to make a decision,” he said. “We’ve got to make a decision, we’ve got to get it behind us.”

If the commissioners decide to implement a streamside setback, affected landowners would have a protest period in which to try and overturn the regulation.

Both Schulz and Happel know citizens are anxious for the commissioners to make some kind of decision on the issue. The issue hasn’t been intentionally ignored, but this summer the commissioners have dealt with a number of issues including floods, a broken sewer line at one of the county’s nursing homes and a lawsuit against Gov. Brian Schweitzer over state funding.

“It’s to the county’s advantage to at least move the process along so we can at least put some kind of plan together so that everybody knows what’s going on,” Happel said. “I think more than anything else we’ve had one heck of a year for issues.”

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