Park County commissioners recently denied a Wapiti man the opportunity to expand his business for the second time in six months.
Peter Pleban was seeking a floodplain development permit to construct teepee and tent platforms for his Wheels of Wonderment Motorcycle Campground business at 1 Streamside Drive, 12 miles west of Cody.
The commissioners who supported the denial said that Pleban did not provide enough information to prove his structures would be able to withstand a flood event.
Bryan Skoric, one of Pleban’s neighbors and Park County District Attorney, submitted a letter opposing the platforms.
Skoric said if approved, the project would set a precedent for construction approval along what he finds to be a flood-prone creek, creating a free-for-all to all development if given the green light.
“What we have is commercial property that somebody has purchased, developing it to the best [of] his abilities,” commissioner Lloyd Thiel said. “Versus a resident that doesn’t like being crowded.”
Pleban’s request was denied with a 3-1 vote at the May 21 commissioner meeting. Thiel cast the lone vote in support of the project.
A past request Pleban submitted to build wood platforms, utilities and a security fence was rejected by the commissioners in November 2018.
Pleban’s property directly borders the east side of Trout Creek, just south of US 14-16-20. The portion of Pleban’s land where he was to install the four pads is within the North Fork floodplain area that borders Trout Creek. Because of such, the work required a floodplain development permit. Studies within the floodplain take into account floods that have an up to one percent annual chance of occurring.
The question of flood risk led to contentious debate during the commissioner meeting.
Joy Hill, planning and zoning director, said the county has seen evidence the land has flooded recently.
“The location is known to flood,” Hill wrote in her staff report. “Any materials placed in the floodplain may be swept onto other lands to the injury of others.”
Thiel said he has been out to the property and noticed a cabin and neighboring resident in even closer proximity to Trout Creek, but not in the floodplain.
“I question whether the floodplain is real or not as to what impacts this is going to have versus what is already there,” Thiel said.
Pleban said his campground only operates during the summer, when there is no flood activity.
He did not submit data on how the platforms would withstand sediment and water in a flood event and said he has never seen Trout Creek flood in the summer during his four years of home ownership and 66 years frequenting the area.
“Just never happens,” he said. “It’s happened before, probably 8-10 million years ago.”
Commissioner Lee Livingston, a lifelong native of Park County, did not agree.
“Just the geography of that area is susceptible to flash flooding,” he said. “I’ve seen Trout Creek out of its banks in July. I’ve seen it out of its banks in August.”
Before obtaining permitting Pleban already had electrical conduit and fill for the decks placed, ranging in size from 0-16 inches high, designed as platforms for his teepees.
Per county regulations, any deck or platform constructed in floodplain areas must be built at or below grade, or a permit is required. The county commissioners decide on floodplain development permit applications with input from county staff.
“We live on a sphere,” Pleban said. “There is no way to get a slab on grade on perfect ground without adding fill, no way.”
Pleban disagreed with the county regarding whether he needed a permit prior to building his platforms, that he viewed to be built at grade.
“On your bylaws, they strictly say, on-grade or below grade depths of concrete rock and brick are exempt from review,” Pleban said.
FEMA guidelines contradict this, county engineer Brian Edwards said, because Pleban added unnatural fill to the area, and his platforms “deplete flood capacity.”
“I’m not disagreeing that when you need to level something out, that’s what you do, you either cut in or you fill,” Edwards said. “When you’re in a flood plain there’s different things you’re looking at.”
County staff said Pleban did not submit enough information regarding how his new construction would withstand a flood event.
A large teepee was also recently constructed, at the north end of the property nearest the highway. Hill said there is “no question” the ground it sits on has been flooded in the past.
Pleban also recently built unpermitted portable toilets within the floodplain.
“If there’s a violation, come to me later,” Pleban said, viewing the toilets as an unrelated topic.
He already has a permit for a small wastewater system, designed to accommodate 20 campsites and 10 cabins on a different part of his property.
County staff suggested Pleban build his decks on parts of his property outside the floodplain, where other campground spots already exist.
“He admitted these platforms and teepees are necessary in the floodplain only for economic benefit and to please his customers,” Skoric wrote in his letter to the commissioners.
Pleban also has plans for a 100-foot long security barrier to be built along his property line for privacy.
He said this was because Skoric shoots firearms on his property, which he considers a great risk to human life.
“I have a right to protect my family, my customers,” Pleban said. “If it saves one life it’s worth it.”
Livingston was skeptical that Pleban’s proposed fence would stop a bullet and the purpose contradictory.
“If not allowing this (teepee platforms) saves one life it’s worth it,” he said. “If folks are sleeping in those tents and you get a flash flood, best case scenario their sleeping bags get wet. Worst case scenario someone gets hurt or killed.”
Upon hearing the commissioner decision Pleban placed a bag containing what appeared to be turnips and weeds in a trash can directly next to the commissioner’s desk and then stormed out of the room.