The Pryor Times

June 29, 2013

County Commissioner Ball violates ordinance he signed

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

— Those attending the special Flood Plain Board meeting came in complaining of the weather, but didn't get a break from the heat once the meeting was called to order.

A self-proclaimed concerned citizen submitted a letter of accusation regarding Mayes County Commissioner Ryan Ball and issued a call for action.

Ron Coats penned the letter, alerting the board to his findings that Ball and his brother Bryan Ball have been digging in a flood plain area without the necessary permit.

“I would request that the Flood Plain Board check into this to find out if they are in violation. As a concerned citizen of Mayes County I am very disturbed by the fact that Ryan Ball is a county commissioner and he should know that he has to have a permit before any work can be done,” Coats wrote in his letter. “I would also request that Ryan and his brother be sanctioned and that the other county commissioners be notified of their violations.”

Coats concluded his letter by saying, “the last thing that Mayes County needs is a rogue commissioner and his family that think they are above the law.”

Both Ryan and Bryan Ball own and live on property on Saline Creek in Salina. The area is identified as Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain A.

Floodplain administrator Johnny Janzen was called on to ascertain whether a violation has been made.

He provided the relevant ordinance that explains any work done in a flood plain area requires a permit; work including but not limited to building construction, excavating, grading, drilling and road or driveway construction. The total cost of the necessary permit is $175.

The ordinance says that the purpose of the regulation is to promote public health, safety and general welfare, and to minimize public and private losses due to flood conditions in specific areas. It goes on to list provisions to protect human life and health, minimize expenditure of public money for costly flood control projects and minimize the need for rescue and relief efforts.

Janzen explained that the reason for enforcing the regulation goes even further. FEMA sets the regulations in areas it finds that could experience flooding.

“If FEMA finds that we aren't in regulation they could put us on probation which results in possible removal from the National Flood Insurance Program,” said Janzen. “And it would mean we would no longer receive FEMA disaster aid in the floodplain.”

Removal from the NFIP would mean anyone in Mayes County  that has flood insurance through the NFIP would lose their flood insurance. Those individuals would then have to seek coverage from a private agency at a much higher cost. A loss of flood insurance can impact property/homeowner insurance, bank notes and loans.

To illustrate his point on losing disaster aid, Janzen gave an example. If a flood washed out a bridge and caused damage to land or structures, it would be up to the county and taxpayers to come up with the funding for repair.

The board looked through pictures and maps showing the changes the Balls made to their property, concluding that their primary concern was the lack of permit.

The changes to Commissioner Ball's property were said to involve the creek bed, building a wooden deck and digging a swimming hole.

“Commissioner Ball signed the resolution that all the citizens are governed by, so it's not that he didn't know he needed a permit. He should come under the same scrutiny as anyone else,” said Coats in reference to resolution 11-42.

Resolution 11-42 states: “It is hereby found and declared that severe flooding has occurred in the past within its jurisdiction and will certainly occur in the future; that flooding is likely to result in infliction of serious personal injury or death and is likely to result in substantial injury or destruction of property.” It continues, saying that in effort to adhere to the minimum standards for coverage under NFIP it is necessary to adhere to the regulations outlined in the ordinance. The resolution was signed into effect Sept. 16, 2011, by Commissioners Darrell Yodel, Alva Martin and Ryan Ball.

The ordinance states that all new construction shall be designed and adequately anchored to prevent flotation or collapse and that all new construction be done with methods and practices that minimize flood damage. New construction must also be done with materials that are resistant to flood damage.

“I don't need some nut like this driving around like I'm an idiot for trying to clean up my property,” said Bryan Ball, which caused the board to ask for order and decorum.

“If he's not even involved with this board, how does he even know about all this? Why is he into this investigation?” said Bryan Ball Sr., Bryan and Ryan’s father. The board told him that was not in the scope of the meeting's discussion.

Ball Sr. asked that all board members come see the property in question for themselves, saying they couldn't make a decision until they'd seen the changes in person.

“This is serious. We're just poor folk and this could ruin us,” said Ball Sr. “You start trying to tear my family down and you stir me up.

“This guy here [Coats] has stirred all this up. I know where you all are headed,” said Ball Sr.

Board chariman Mike Sisemore repeated his request for decorum and focus.

“In looking at our ordinance there as been a violation, we're to regulate to FEMA flood zone A. The ordinance highlights permit procedures, and it's a simple procedure,” said  Sisemore.

“Maybe Bryan didn't know, but Ryan signed it into place. We're not here to punish people, but there's an ordinance violation so we have to discuss resolution,” said Sisemore.

Typically the party in violation is asked to cure the problem they've created, which the board said was not possible in this situation.  

All members of the board agreed that as they are not engineers, they are not qualified to discuss the amount, if any, damage was done. The board agreed to adhere to the suggestions made by the Oklahoma Water Resource Board, as it is qualified to make these determinations.

“I spoke to Gavin Brady of the Water Resources Board and he said there is no way, as a board, we can know if the work done will affect the footprint of that flood plain. For that reason they suggest we have an engineer review it,” said Janzen.

In the form of a motion Sisemore outlined the plan of action. The board needs to bring in an unbiased engineer who has no affiliation with the county commissioners to review the situation. The engineer will determine if the changes made will affect upstream or downstream properties. The engineer must determine if curative action is needed. The property owners need to address settlement, erosion and other environmental factors. A determination needs to be made on whether the changes, specifically digging a hole, alter the base flood elevation. If the BFE is altered a letter of map amendment may be required.

As the area is an unstudied flood zone the engineer would be asked to determine if it is a flood-way, which has a different set of regulations. Making that determination could require a separate study.

With a second and all affirmative votes, the motion passed and further action was tabled.

The ordinance concludes with article six, the penalties for noncompliance, which were not discussed in the meeting.

It reiterates that no structure or land shall be constructed, converted or altered without full compliance with the terms of the regulations.

Violation of the regulations by failure to comply with any of the requirements is a misdemeanor.

“Any person who violates the provisions of these regulations or fails to comply with any of its requirements shall upon conviction be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both, for each violation and in addition shall pay all costs and expenses involved in the case,” the ordinance states.

In the course of the discussion, it was stated that the violations discussed were solely in regard to the FEMA standardized flood plain regulations.

As the changes included water in a flood zone, a portion of the Clean Water Act was violated. As over one acre of land was disturbed, the Department of Environmental Quality required an additional permit.

“We hate to act against our neighbors, we do,” said Sisemore. “But this is a serious thing that can impact a lot of people.”

Concluding the meeting, the board discussed another violation that was discovered during the investigation of the Ball properties.

Also on Salina Creek, another property owner made changes to the land without a permit, including digging, removing material, parking campers, RVs and old cars.

“We treat everyone the same. This gentleman has done the same sort of thing as the Balls, plus he has campers parked on his property and people seem to be staying in them,” said Janzen, pointing out that this is a safety hazard and is mentioned specifically in the ordinance.

The board agreed that action in that situation will begin with sending a letter notifying the individual of the violation.