Archive for November 19th, 2008

by jhwygirl

The Ravalli Republic published an article Thursday regarding Tom Robak’s fight with Ravalli County over his home which the county is saying is built within the floodway. This battle has been going on for more than a year now, and is well-known outside Ravalli County. The Ravalli Republic frames Robak’s self-imposed woes as something brought on by zoning regulations and recent land use planning activity:

Although its controversial growth policy was repealed at the ballot box two weeks ago, Ravalli County’s struggle over land-use planning continues to play out on a remote riverbank and in a city courtroom.

In 2000, Tom and Charlotte Robak bought three acres along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and started mapping out their dream home, years before the county began crafting proposed streamside setbacks in mid-2007.

That’s when the Robaks started framing their 4,600-square-foot log mansion a few yards from the river’s banks about 15 miles southwest of Darby.

It’s also when Tom Robak, an ardent property rights activist, started speaking out at the county Streamside Setback Committee’s public meetings, which he considers a government intrusion on landowners’ rights.

In reading just that short bit of falsely-framed ink, the lead-in to the article, the impression is given that the county is going after Robak due to streamside regulations the county is working to enact.

Read through the entire article, and there is nary a mention that the laws that Robak is alleged to have violated are regulations and authority that the state have had in place for decades.

Montana’s floodplain regulations are in place to comply with FEMA requirements regarding development within areas that are subject to flooding. By enacting these regulations, Montana ensured that its citizens were able to purchase and participate in flood insurance coverage that is backed by the federal government. Without the ability to purchase flood insurance, and homeowner is pretty much left out in the cold. Or in deep water.

The idea behind these regulations – why there are floodplain regulations – is that structures that are located within the floodway can, when flooded, break away from foundations and float down the floodway and destroy city, county, state and federal infrastructure like bridges and roadways and utilities. Loose floating homes present other dangers to other properties downstream – not to mention lives.

In other words – there are darn good reasons why we have floodplain regulations.

Further – any county that fails to enforce these floodplain regulations can cause its citizens the loss to the right to participate in FEMA’s flood insurance program. That would be everyone’s ability to obtain or keep their floodplain policy.

But – you wouldn’t know that by reading the Ravalli Republic’s story on Tom Robak’s home which appears to be built in the floodway. In fact, reading all of the ink that has been written on Robak’s castle that he built mere feet from the Bitterroot River – not the tamest of rivers in terms of wanting to stay where it is, any Bitterrooter knows – you’d never know that his woes are associated with those regulations…you only get the sense that the county is trying to persecute this poor guy because he hates streamside setbacks. Because he’s the money and founder behind the Big Sky Coalition.

The Big Sky Coalition is one of several anti-zoning, anti-streamside setbacks, pro-uncontrolled growth groups in Ravalli County. According to the Ravalli Republic, though, the Big Sky Coalition is a “new breed of environmentalist” for Ravalli County.

Make you feel warm-n-fuzzy?

Kinda makes me wonder how much money Robak and his Big Sky Coalition is putting into advertising down there in Ravalli County’s only daily newspaper, doesn’t it?

Going further, in terms of reporting the specifics of Robak’s floodway-located home, and the potential that it may have to be removed, the newspaper makes no mention of another home that was recently moved and relocated after having been built within the floodway, nor another (as I hear it) that is under the same type of scrutiny.

No – it’s all about poor pityful Thomas Robak and the spiteful situation he faces with the ever repressive regulators.

It’s hard to eliminate bias – I’d be pot, kettle, black if I didn’t admit that – and on that note, no one is coming to read this blog expecting completely unbiased opinion, right? – but you’d think in somewhere in all the ink that the Ravalli Republic has given this story – more than once – that they’d take the time to educate its readers on exactly the regulations that are at play here – that the regulations at play, and the enforcement of the regulations, are something that affects probably 85% or more of Ravalli County residents (those that have to have flood insurance), and that the regulations that Robak is allegedly in violation of are regulations that are in place in every county in Montana.

Otherwise, they are willingly feeding anti-zoning and anti-land use planning sentiments/sediments, and playing the willful mouthpiece of those people – and not accurately reflecting the actual facts of the news they are reporting.

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