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May 30, 2016
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Preserving local jurisdiction

And what is the ultimate goal that the RMP uses that local authority to attain? The answer lies in the Wild and Scenic River Act, the federal legislation for which the RMP is an administrative document. In section 10, the act says, “(a) Each component of the national wild and scenic rivers system shall be administered in such manner as to protect and enhance the values which caused it to be included in said system without, insofar as is consistent therewith, limiting other uses that do not substantially interfere with public use and enjoyment of these values. In such administration primary emphasis shall be given to protecting its esthetic, scenic, historic, archaeologic and scientific features” (emphasis ours).

Thus, the primary goal of the legislation, and by implication the RMP, is to protect the values for which the river was designated. Other uses are not to be interfered with, but there is a caveat to that non-interference principle: those other uses must not jeopardize the values for which the river was designated.

So, while it could be argued that the raison d’etre of the RMP is to carry out the law in a way that respects the right and ability of local municipalities to legislate their own turf, if there were ever a conflict between letting some individual landowners do whatever they wanted with their land, and protecting the river resource, it would not be a tie. That’s what conformance reviews are all about. If a municipality either has laws and ordinances that settle a conflict between protecting the river and some incompatible land use in favor of the land use—or if its ordinances are consistent with the RMP’s guidelines but the town fails to enforce them—that’s exactly when a municipality should be declared out of “substantial conformance.”

The rewording of the UDC’s top priority for the next five years was an important recognition that protecting private property rights, on a stand-alone basis, is not the primary goal of the RMP. But protecting property rights “insofar as consistent” with the protection of the values for which the river was designated is indeed a legitimate and important concern. Understanding and maintaining this delicate balance will continue to be a focus of the UDC over the next five years, and we are encouraged to see that the members were able to agree on phraseology that better reflects it than the original draft.