Imagine this scenario: A senior citizen wants to use a riding lawnmower to cut down blackberry vines sprouting on her creek-side property, but first she must get a permit from the city of Ashland and pay $907.
As it's now written, a proposed ordinance meant to protect streams and wetlands would require just that.
But the City Council has yet to decide just how far the city should go in protecting areas next to streams and wetlands. After discussing the issue for more than an hour Tuesday night, the council will take up the topic again on July 21.
The proposed ordinance would create protected buffer zones of up to 50 feet next to streams and wetlands. It could affect 1,800 properties because Ashland is laced with more than 20 small and large streams and as many as 44 wetlands.
Many activities could still go on within the buffer zones without anyone needing to get a special permit, including maintaining an existing lawn with a push or riding mower, landscaping with native plants and removing invasive vegetation with a push mower or weedeater.
But removing noxious, invasive vegetation such as blackberries with anything weighing more than 100 pounds — including a riding mower or a tractor — would require a Type I permit that costs $907.
Cutting or thinning vegetation to reduce wildfire risk with anything weighing more than 100 pounds would also require a $907 permit.
Other activities would be banned outright, including installing new lawn inside a buffer zone or building a solid wood fence.
The council is also debating a requirement that 100 percent of the plants within the half of the buffer zone that is nearest a stream be native plants. Non-native plants could make up 50 percent of the vegetation in the half of the buffer zone farthest from the creek.
Councilor Greg Lemhouse questioned how average residents will be able to tell which of their plants are native, and what percentage of their vegetation is made up of native and non-native plants.
"Even if this makes sense to some, it's not going to make sense to the general population," he said.
Community Development Department Director Bill Molnar said native plants and trees are beneficial for the environment and people. He noted that many native trees withstood the 1997 flood in Ashland and their roots helped stabilize banks.
Native plants and animals are part of an interconnected ecological web, said Mayor John Stromberg.
Planner Maria Harris pointed to the example of native willows, which harbor aphids that are in turn eaten by migrating warblers.
Councilor Eric Navickas said the buffer zone widths are alright, but he would prefer even wider buffers of up to 75 feet.
"Do we value private property rights or do we value streams and trying to prevent catastrophic floods?" he asked.
Other issues yet to be resolved include whether to waive permit fees in some cases and whether to allow agricultural uses to continue inside buffer zones. Few crops are native, and farmers often use tractors.
Councilor Kate Jackson pointed out that if all plants must be native within the half of a buffer zone nearest a stream, most farming and gardening would be banned in the floodplain.
"Farming traditionally works best in the floodplain. Those are the most fertile soils," she said.
If a flood destroyed a house or building that had already existed inside a buffer zone, that structure could be replaced without a special permit, although a normal building permit would still have to be obtained. However, rebuilding a secondary home or building on the lot would require a special permit.
New building could be allowed within buffers if a person could demonstrate that the steam and wetland buffer ordinance created a hardship, such as if the buffer made a lot unbuildable.
The city of Ashland has dropped any effort to regulate pesticide use inside buffers because state law bans cities from adopting their own laws on pesticide use.
However, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission has set a goal to fully review its pesticide use policy, including looking at costs of limiting pesticides or going pesticide-free, Parks Director Don Robertson said.
The Portland Parks and Recreation Department did a pilot study on a 5.6 acre park and found that weed management costs for the park increased from $370.92 to $3,621 during a year when no pesticides were used, even though volunteers and others who were not department employees contributed almost 262 hours of work.
In other business Tuesday night, the council:
- approved a variance to the city's noise rules to allow the Oregon Department of Transportation to work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Interstate 5 between Crowson Road and Exit 14 sometime during the next three weeks;
- confirmed John Karns as the new Ashland Fire & Rescue chief;
- awarded a $43,972 contract for an ecological assessment of the city's Lithia Springs property on Emigrant Creek Road where the Ashland Gun Club is sited;
- approved a $59,836 contract for monitoring and testing of the city's water supply in Reeder Reservoir;
- gave final approval for an ordinance that requires proposals for public art on historic buildings to go through a review process;
- and delayed adopting a sweatshop-free policy for city uniforms and reviewing plans to reduce wildfire risk on city-owned land in the Ashland Watershed because sweatshop-free policy supporters and Ashland Forest Lands Commissioners could not be present for the meeting.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.