Waterfront Hazards

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dkaubo

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dkaubo

It seems like every day the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other governmental agencies are passing a new regulation prohibiting yet another activity on waterfront property. Woe to the park district that runs afoul of one of these regulations, as it may lead to lawsuits, fines, and possibly even jail time for the administrators. In the face of these penalties, here are four approaches every park district administrator must use to keep the district out of trouble and retain his or her job. 

1. Do not build in a floodplain. A floodplain is the land around a body of water that becomes covered during periods of heavy precipitation. A floodplain is defined broadly, and usually includes the land that is submerged during the largest flood every 100 years. Floodplains exist around lakes, rivers, streams, and even some larger ponds. The area defined as a floodplain can sometimes change based on new land uses around the body of water, changes in the size of the body of water, or the construction of flood-mitigating systems, such as dams and retention pools. Additionally, floodplain maps can be viewed on FEMA’s website at msc.fema.gov. Construction in floodplains is heavily regulated under state and federal law. A permit, usually issued by the state department of natural resources, must be obtained before any construction will be authorized. This construction is not necessarily limited to the erection of new structures. A park district must obtain a permit each time it seeks to expand, replace, or even minimize a structure. In fact, a permit is necessary even to rebuild a structure that has been destroyed in a flood. However, it usually is not necessary to obtain a permit for the erection of a temporary structure. Severe penalties exist for unauthorized floodplain construction, including the demolition of the structure, a return of the floodplain to its pre-construction condition, and fines. If park district property is located in a floodplain, this does not necessarily mean that construction is prohibited. The park district can apply for a variance, which may permit the structure to be built without adherence to the state’s floodplain regulations. Alternatively, the state can issue a permit that allows for the structure to be built in compliance with the state’s floodplain regulations. 

2. Be careful what goes into the water. In addition to being mindful about what is put on the land, park districts should be careful about what is put into the water. The Clean Water Act, which applies to all bodies of water that are commercially navigable, generally including major rivers, tributaries to those rivers, large lakes, and oceans, regulates the dumping of pollutants into large bodies of water. The regulation generally does not include ponds, streams, small lakes, or wetlands. Pollutants include waste from septic systems, storm sewers, construction sites, pesticides, and

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / LByst

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / LByst

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