Many perplexed by proposed ordinance on waterway buffers

When it comes to the city's proposed ordinance to protect streams and wetlands, there's one thing most people who spoke on the issue Tuesday night agreed upon — it's confusing.

The City Council heard from residents who want greater protection for streams and wetlands, especially when it comes to pesticide use. Other residents said the proposed ordinance could bar them from developing their land or even from cutting their hay with a tractor.

The proposed ordinance could affect 1,800 properties because Ashland is laced with more than 20 small and large streams and as many as 44 wetlands.

After spending most of Tuesday's meeting listening to residents, the City Council will deliberate on whether to adopt the ordinance at a May 19 meeting that starts at 7 p.m. in the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St.

Even some supporters of greater protections said the 40-plus page proposed ordinance is hard for residents to understand and could create ill-will toward the city government.

Ashland Watershed Partnership member JoAnne Eggers, who is also an Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner, said the draft ordinance should be reviewed by a technical task force as well as average citizens.

"I suggest a citizen review panel look at this and see if they can understand it," Eggers said, prompting laughter from the audience. "The ordinance would have passed its first user-friendly test."

The ordinance divides wetlands into two categories and streams into three categories, with buffer zones of up to 50 feet where activities would be restricted. The buffer zone for streams would be up to 50 feet on each side, measured from the top of the bank.

However, the definition of the top of a bank alone takes a half-page.

Rick Landt, a former Parks commissioner, showed slides of how difficult it can be to judge where the top of a stream bank is. Some banks are covered in rip-rap boulders and others are smothered in invasive plants. Some property owners have lawns that slope gently down to a stream's edge, with no bank in sight.

One alternative could be to measure from the middle of a creek, he said.

Resident Zach Brombacher, who has Hamilton Creek running through his property, said the creek is only two to four feet wide, yet the ordinance would require buffer zones of 40 feet on each side — for a total width of 80 feet along the stream.

"Why should landowners accept devaluation without compensation?" he asked.

Marcia McNamara, who has a creek that would also require 40 feet of buffer zones on each side running through her large property, said she would have to mow 40,000 square feet by hand because of the ordinance's restrictions on heavy equipment. She said her neighbor would not be able to cut hay with a tractor within 40 feet of the creek.

Terry Clement, who owns an undeveloped lot, said the ordinance could make construction difficult.

"I'm a lot owner who would like to build someday and provide jobs," he said.

Seeking greater protection

But speaking in support of greater protections, resident Rivers Brown said Southern Oregon University students and others could be put to work weeding and mulching if pesticide use was controlled.

"Let's put people to work in this economy," Brown said.

The proposed ordinance does not regulate pesticide use because state law bars local communities from enacting their own restrictions on pesticides.

Resident Julie Norman said the city could still decide to have the parks department stop using pesticides. She said Glenwood Park is already pesticide-free because of the volunteer work of neighbors and the cooperation of Donn Todt, the Parks Department's horticulturist, who is using botanical herbicides there.

Several residents noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing commonly used pesticides to determine whether they are actually safe.

"All of the pesticides that are now banned were once considered safe and legal," Tom Marr said.

John Ward, representing a flyfishing group, said he likes the ordinance because it doesn't just protect streams that are designated as "fish-bearing." He said smaller streams provide refuge for juvenile fish.

Young Joe Holden, who sat with his mom, Liesa Holden, at the table with microphones where citizens speak to councilors, said Ashland Creek flows through his backyard. He said having pesticides flow into the creek and kill the steelhead and crayfish there is a big deal to him and his family.

Before the City Council makes a decision on the issue, councilors asked city staff to come back with information about how the ordinance would be enforced and how a pesticide ban in city parks would affect the Parks Department's budget and operations.

In a nutshell

As the ordinance is currently proposed, many activities would still be allowed within stream buffer areas, including:

  • tree pruning that isn't so severe that it harms the tree's health or ability to provide shade and prevent erosion;
  • removing non-native vegetation with hand-held equipment, including weedeaters and chainsaws;
  • cutting vegetation with hand-held equipment to reduce wildfire risk;
  • using herbicides on noxious or invasive vegetation in accordance with the product label, although alternative methods such as mowing and hand removal are strongly recommended;
  • maintaining an existing lawn;
  • establishing lawns, gardens and porous patios and walkways as long they do not cover more than 150 square feet in the buffer zone;
  • building trails with porous surfaces;
  • and replacing or rebuilding a home or building that already intrudes into the buffer zone, or adding stories, as long as the ground area covered does not increase within the buffer zone. Existing buildings could remain.

Other activities would be banned, including:

  • removing a native tree that is six inches in diameter at chest height or larger and
  • removing vegetation unless it is non-native, noxious or invasive or poses a wildfire risk.

Many of the rules covering stream buffers would also apply to wetland buffers.

In cases where the stream and wetland rules excessively limit the development or use of a lot, the owner could apply for a hardship variance.

If the buffer areas would limit the number of homes that could be built in a development, homes could be built more densely outside the buffer area.

For more information on the proposed rules, visit

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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