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The recent compromise on ephemeral streams

By Tom Glendenning
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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Pittsboro, NC - Ephemeral streams are defined by North Carolina standards as those paths of water which have no permanently defined bed for passage and will provide drainage when rain events occur to fill them. They could be the ditch beside your driveway or the road ditch. They could be the low place in the pasture or lawn which holds water while draining after a rain.

There are several classes of ephemeral streams, according to the proponents of keeping the regulation in effect for Chatham County. However, the main definition creates an enforceable regulation on almost anyone’s property in the county. Followed to the letter, the regulation would deny building of the sheriff’s office parking lot behind the building. It would deny parking lots for county offices along US 64 highway.

Chatham is the only North Carolina county with such regulations. This status begs the question whether the government has the right to take property without just compensation.

For consideration, a few examples of impacts on private property are given. If a ten acre tract has ephemeral streams, or drain ways located on it crossing from one side to the other and if the tract is square, the dimension is 2.4 acres wide or 498 feet. One Ephemeral stream has a setback of 30 feet on each side, or 60 feet total. The area of the regulated land is .69 acres. Two streams amount to 1.38 acres, or fourteen percent of the parcel. According to the regulations, fourteen percent of the land can not be built upon and that land is removed from the use and pleasure of the owner. In a subdivision in which building lots are worth $ 75,000, the land removed is worth $ 9750. This scenario is a reasonable one. It is not out of the question as an example. There is, in fact, a two acre plot with an ephemeral stream in its middle. 0.4 acres removed from that parcel makes it unusable.

Is anyone offering to reimburse the landowner for this loss of use? Has anyone offered to reduce the tax value by that amount? Will anyone propose a settlement? Of course not. These are rhetorical questions. No one will. But the same people will demand that the landowner pay the price of overregulation and government control without just compensation or wartime act. Where are these fundamental rights protected?

The map below is from the Chatham County GIS department. It includes all waterways, streams, lakes, ponds, watersheds, National Wetlands and Ambient Water Quality Sites. Observe the amount of colored area on the map and guess how much is governed by the current regulations. The controlled acreage is vast. A true inventory of it would require a long, detailed study and tax analysis. One purely intuitive guess is that it comprises twenty-five percent of total land in the county. The map does not cover all streams because detailed parcel surveys were not completed in the Chatham Conservation Plan, released March, 2011. Is there place for humans anywhere in it?

Besides, I want to see some real data on particulate run off from ephemeral streams, not conjecture.

Inspection of particular parcels will reveal each potential loss of use. The picture below makes the point. The colored area is regulated according to the watershed rules. The map shows waters outside the county, by program default.

For the Chatham County GIS website and parcel query:

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The recent compromise on ephemeral streams