Concerned that flooding could wash out guests, Park County commissioners have again blocked the owner of a North Fork campground from building near a creek. They also ordered the Wheels of Wonderment …
Concerned that flooding could wash out guests, Park County commissioners have again blocked the owner of a North Fork campground from building near a creek. They also ordered the Wheels of Wonderment Motorcycle Campground to remove some dirt pads, electrical conduit and portable toilets it installed without county approval.
Pete Pleban, the campground’s owner, had not thought he needed the county’s permission — and he contended that the tepees he hopes to build alongside Trout Creek are not in danger of flooding.
However, Park County Planning and Zoning staff and a majority of commissioners were concerned about recent and historical evidence of water flowing through the area.
Commissioner Lee Livingston — who’s lived along Trout Creek — said rainstorms can quickly bring the creek out of its banks in the middle of the summer.
“If I was sleeping next to that creek bank in July and August, I’d be concerned about floodwaters coming down through there in the middle of the night,” he said, adding later, “Best case scenario, those sleeping bags get wet; worst case scenario, someone gets hurt or killed.”
Commissioner Joe Tilden said the county had to base the decision on the health and welfare of the people who are going to use the campgrounds “and that’s a real problem.”
On May 21, the commission voted 3-1 to deny a permit for the tepees, electrical conduit and a security fence within Trout Creek’s designated floodplain.
Pleban filed an appeal in Park County’s District Court last week, asking a judge to allow him to continue developing property.
“I believe I was warrented [sic] a unjust, biased review by the Board of Commissioners and believe I am in full complaince of the laws set forth by Park County,” he wrote.
At the May hearing, Pleban told commissioners he has never seen the creek swell to the tepees’ levels in his four years living in the area.
“Just never happens,” he said, suggesting the property flooded “probably 8 to 10 million years ago.”
“To me it’s a no brainer, what I’m doing,” he said, noting that only a small amount of dirt is being moved in the floodplain.
Commissioner Lloyd Thiel cast the dissenting vote, supporting Pleban’s permit. Thiel said Pleban was developing the commercially zoned property “to the best of his ability” to have a source of income.
He also questioned whether the floodplain “is real or not” in terms of impacting to campers in the tepees. To reach the area, Trout Creek is “going to have to take out the dang highway,” he said, referring to nearby U.S. 14/16/20.
However, Park County Planning Director Joy Hill told the commission that it’s an “absolutely scientifically measurable floodplain.” Based on her observations of the ground where Pleban had already installed a tepee, “I had no question in my mind that … it’s been underwater [in the past].”
Acting as a private citizen, Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric — who is the campground’s nearest neighbor — had urged commissioners to reject Pleban’s request.
“Mr. Pleban’s insistence on crowding as many people and structures as possible onto his small acreage for purely financial gain, should not come at the expense of trampling on the rights of his neighbors and making a mockery of the floodplain development standards,” Skoric wrote in a three-page letter.
Last November, commissioners rejected a different plan, in which Pleban sought to build wooden platforms for the tepees; commissioners and staff voiced concern with the structures floating away in a flood.
However, in March, Skoric reported to the planning and zoning department that Pleban was building elevated pads to serve as a base for concrete tepee platforms, complete with electrical conduit running to the sites. Portable toilets were also brought in.
“What is perplexing is how it is even legal in the year 2019 to have chemical portable toilets in the floodplain, within feet of a premier spawning creek for Yellowstone cutthroat trout?” Skoric wrote.
(The county says that, per the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, portable toilets are not allowed; Pleban has said he thought his actions were in-line with the regulations.)
On top of that, Skoric said he plans to take legal action against Pleban for building the campground’s septic system too close to the water well on Skoric’s property.
Pleban, meanwhile, takes issue with Skoric. In asking for permission to build a 100-foot-long picket security fence on the property, he cited concerns with frequent “heavy gunfire” and large, barking and trespassing dogs coming from Skoric’s property.
“Unfortunately, I have a neighbor who shoots guns,” Pleban told the commissioners, referring to Skoric, adding, “He has a right to shoot guns, but … it’s scary as hell.”
Commissioner Livingston questioned if a cedar picket fence would offer much protection, but Pleban contended that it could stop some bullets.
In his letter to the commission, Skoric disputed that his dogs trespass or that his occasional shooting poses a threat to the campground.
“I pride myself on firearm safety and would never discharge a firearm without a proper backstop or in an unsafe direction,” Skoric said, adding, “If what he states really existed, why is he so adamant on moving in even more guests much closer to my property?”
Noting that Pleban moved to the area a few years ago from Minnesota, Skoric added that “this is Wyoming, not Minnesota.”
Skoric also said he’d be happy to help Pleban pay for a security fence, but to help prevent the campground’s guests from trespassing on his property.
Last month’s meeting ended on an odd note. Immediately after the commission’s no vote, Pleban dropped a plastic bag of what looked like turnips into a trash can that sits near Commission Chairman Jake Fulkerson’s seat. Concerned about the contents, First Deputy Park County Clerk Hans Odde then took the trash can outside as a precaution, though that proved to be a false alarm.
Pleban — who had exited the room after trashing the bag — didn’t respond to an email inquiring about the incident.