Learning a little about The Code of the West and planning

Posted By on August 16, 2013

codeofthewestWhile helping my son bone up for an interview for a planning job west of the Mississippi … and well north too, he began reading a bit of information on the county so he can at least talk intelligently with the interviewer. He researched the area, included cities and towns, geography, political make up, culture and the current objectives of the planning department. Towards the end, there was a reference to concerns over the boom and bust possibilities and The Code of the West for residents and to those purchasing land and building in the area (this happens to be a relatively high growth area).

Hmm … this required a little research. Here’s a little from what we learned … although what I’m including below is from Johnson County, Wyoming, and not where Taylor is interviewing although the philosophy is similar.

From Johnson County Wyoming

The Code of the West was first chronicled by the famous writer, Zane Grey. The men and women who came to this part of the country during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by an unwritten code of conduct. The values of integrity and self-reliance guided their decisions, actions and interactions. In keeping with that spirit, we offer this information to help the citizens of Johnson County, who wish to follow in the footsteps of those rugged individualists by living outside city limits.

INTRODUCTION

It is important for you to know that life in the country is different from life in the city. County governments are not able to provide the same level of service that city governments provide. To that end, we are providing you with the following information to help you make an educated and informed decision to purchase rural land. ACCESS The fact that you can drive to your property does not necessarily guarantee that you, your guests and emergency service vehicles can achieve that same level of access at all times. Please consider:

1.1 Emergency response times (sheriff, fire suppression, medical care, etc.) cannot be assured. Under some conditions, you may find that emergency response is slow and expensive.

1.2 There can be problems with the legal aspects of access, especially if you gain access across property belonging to others. It is wise to obtain legal advice and understand the easements that may be necessary when these types of questions arise.

1.3 You can experience problems with the maintenance and cost of maintenance of your road. First, you should know whether the road you will be using to access your property is public or private. Make sure you know what type of maintenance to expect and who will provide that maintenance. Johnson County maintains over 600 miles of roads, but many rural properties are served by roads that are privately maintained. Some county roads that are not regularly maintained by the county – no grading or snow plowing.

1.4 Extreme weather conditions can destroy roads or sections of roads. It is wise to determine whether or not your road was properly engineered and constructed. 1.5 Some large construction equipment cannot navigate narrow roads and bridges. If you plan to build or install a modular building, it is prudent to check out construction access.

1.6 It may be more expensive and time consuming to build a rural residence due to delivery fees and the time required for contractors to reach your site.

1.7 In extreme weather, even county and state maintained roads can become impassable. You may need a four-wheel drive vehicle with chains for all four wheels to travel during those episodes. Roads may be impassible for extended periods of time.

1.8 Natural disasters, especially floods, can severely damage roads. Johnson County will repair and maintain county roads. However, most subdivision roads are the responsibility of the landowners who use those roads. A dry gulch or creek bed can suddenly become a raging torrent and wash out roads, bridges, and culverts. Residents served by private roads and/or bridges have been hit with large bills for repairs and/or reconstruction after floods.

1.9 Unpaved roads generate dust. Johnson County may not treat the county road system to suppress dust. Dust is a fact of life for many rural residents. Industrial activities, such as coal bed methane development, may increase dust significantly.

1.10 If your road is unpaved, it is highly unlikely that Johnson County will pave it in the foreseeable future.

1.11 Unpaved roads are frequently rough and slippery when wet. You will experience an increase in vehicle maintenance costs when you travel on rural roads. 1.12 School buses travel only on county roads designated as school bus routes by the school district. You may need to drive your children to the nearest designated school bus route or drive them to school yourself.

1.13 Mail delivery is not available to all areas of the county. Ask the postmaster to describe the availability and requirements for your area.

1.14 Newspaper delivery is similarly not always available to rural areas. Check with the newspaper before assuming you can get delivery.

1.15 Standard parcel and overnight package delivery can be a problem for those who live in the country. Confirm service availability with the service providers.

UTILITY SERVICES

Water, sewer, electric, telephone and other utility-related services may be unavailable or inoperable at urban standards. Note: It may be difficult or even impossible to obtain sufficient water for your needs through traditional means. Repairs of your various services can often take much longer than in towns or cities. As you consider your move to the country, keep in mind the following aspects of country living:

2.1 If you have access to a community water system, tap fees can be expensive. You may also find that your service costs may be higher when compared to municipal systems.

2.2 If you do not have access to a community water system, you will have to locate an alternative supply. The most common method is the use of water well. Permits for wells are granted by the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, and the cost of drilling and pumping can be significant. The quality and quantity of well water can vary considerably from location to location and from season to season. It is strongly advised that you research this issue very carefully.

2.3 Occasionally, potable well water is simply unavailable or only obtained through very expensive deep drilling. Be aware that naturally occurring minerals in Wyoming soils are likely to affect plumbing and will require filtering systems to address these issues.

2.4 Public sewer service is generally not available in rural areas, and it may be expensive to hook into a public system.

2.5 If sewer service is not available, you will need to obtain a septic system permit, or other treatment process permit. A licensed engineer must be hired to design the proper system for your site. You must obtain a septic system permit application from the Johnson County Sanitarian, and the County Sanitarian must check and approve your system. The type of soil, the depth of the water table, topographical considerations and other limitations may be limiting factors in constructing your leach field, and they may affect the cost and function of your system.

2.6 Electrical service is not available to every area of Johnson County. It is important to determine the proximity and availability of load levels of electrical power. It can be very expensive to extend either power lines or buried cable to remote areas. Check with local power providers regarding these issues.

2.7 The most economical way to extend electrical service to your property may require crossing property belonging to others. It is imperative that you have the proper easements in place before proceeding with line placements. 2.8 Electrical power may not be available in two-phase or three-phase service configurations. If you have special power requirements, it is important to know what level of service can be provided to your property.

2.9 If you are purchasing land with the plan to build at a future date, there is a possibility that electric lines (and other utilities) may not be large enough to accommodate you if others connect during the time you wait to build.

2.10 The cost of electric service is usually divided into a fee to hook into the system and then a monthly charge for energy consumed. It is important to know both costs before making a decision to purchase a specific piece of property.

2.11 Power outages can occur in outlying areas with more frequency than in more developed areas. A loss of electrical power can also interrupt your supply from a well. You may also lose food in freezers and refrigerators. Power outages can cause problems with computers as well. It is important to be able to survive for up to a week in severe cold with no utilities if you live in the country.

2.12 Telephone communications can be a problem, especially in the mountain area of Johnson County. In some areas, the only telephone service available has been a party line. Even cellular telephones have no service in certain areas.

2.13 If you have a private line, it may be difficult to obtain another line for FAX or computer uses. Internet connections can be extremely slow. Internet service without satellite connections may be too slow and unsuitable for certain kinds of home business and private use.

2.14 Refuse removal can be much more expensive in a rural area than in a city. It may be unacceptable to create your own trash dump, even on your own land. It is good to know the cost for trash removal as you make the decision to move into the country. In some cases, your only option may be to haul your trash to the county sanitary landfill yourself. Recycling, though a worthy endeavor is more difficult because pick-up is not available in most rural areas.

THE PROPERTY

Many issues, including pre-existing easements and right-of-way agreements, and water rights, can affect your property. It is important to research these items before purchasing land.

3.1 Not all parcels are build-able. You may want to check state and federal laws regarding habitats for endangered species, wetlands and other issues before you build.

3.2 Easements may require you to allow construction of roads, power lines, livestock trails, water lines, sewer lines, etc. across your land. There may be easements that are not listed on all records. Check these issues carefully.

3.3 Many property owners do not own any or all of the mineral rights under their property. This is known as “split-estate” ownership. Owners of mineral rights may have the ability to change the surface characteristics in order to extract their minerals. It is very important to know what minerals may be located under the land and who owns them. Much of the rural land in Johnson County can be used for mining; however a special review by the county commissioners is usually required. Be aware that adjacent mining uses can expand and cause negative impacts.

3.4 You may be provided with a plat of your property, but unless the land has been surveyed and pins placed by a licensed surveyor, you cannot assume that the plat is accurate. You may wish to hire your own surveyor, but be aware that it may be expensive to do so. 3.5 Fences that separate properties are often misaligned with the property lines. A survey of the land is the only way to confirm the location of your property lines.

3.6 Many subdivisions, Planned Unit Developments (PUD) and other properties have covenants that limit the use of the property. It is important to obtain a copy of the covenants (or confirm that there are none) and make sure that you can live with those rules. Note: Covenants are civil agreements and, as such, are not enforceable by local governments. Be aware if there are no covenants. Check into the reasons why there are none, and find out how that has affected the current residents. A lack of covenants can cause problems between neighbors.

3.7 Homeowners Associations (HOA) are often required to take care of common elements, roads, open space, etc. A dysfunctional homeowners association or poor covenants can cause problems for you and even involve you in expensive litigation.

3.8 Dues are almost always a requirement for those areas with a HO A. The by-laws of the HO A should tell you how the organization operates and how the dues are set.

3.9 The surrounding properties will probably not remain as they are indefinitely. You can check with the Johnson County Planning and Zoning Commission to find out the status of surrounding properties and to see what future developments may be in the planning stages. The view from your property may very likely change.

3.10 The water flowing in irrigation ditches or streams belongs to someone. You cannot assume that, because the water flows across your property, you can legally use it.

3.11 Water rights are important legal considerations. Water rights that are sold with the property may not give you the right to use the water from any ditches crossing your land without coordinating with a neighbor who also uses the water. Other users may have senior water rights to the water that can limit your use or require you to pay for the over-sizing or other improvements to the ditch.

3.12 If you have a ditch running across your property, there is a good possibility that the owners of the ditch have the right to come onto your property with heavy equipment to maintain the ditch. However, should the ditch flood, the damages to the property may be your responsibility.

3.13 It is important to make sure that any water rights you purchase with the land will provide enough water to maintain fruit trees, pastures, gardens or livestock. If you have legal right to use the water, you may have financial responsibilities to access the water and help maintain and improve the system.

3.13 Flowing water can be a hazard, especially to young children. Before you decide to locate your home near an active ditch, stream, or other water body, consider the possible danger to your family.

3.14 At the time this version of this document was written, Johnson County had no officially adopted zoning regulations or building codes and no requirements for contractor licensing in the unincorporated area of the county. If you are purchasing property with an existing home, you may want to have a thorough inspection completed prior to your purchase. If you are building a new home, you may want to ask your builder for references or check the builder’s qualifications.

MOTHER NATURE

Residents of the country usually experience more problems when the elements and earth turn unfriendly. Here are some thoughts for you to consider.

4.1 The physical characteristics of your property can be positive and negative. Trees are a wonderful environmental amenity, but can also involve your home in a forest fire. Building at the top of a forested draw should be considered as dangerous as building in a flash flood area. "Defensible perimeters" are very helpful in protecting buildings from forest fire and inversely can protect the forest from igniting if your house catches fire. If you start a forest fire, you are responsible for paying for the cost of extinguishing that fire. For further information, you can contact the Johnson County Fire Warden.

4.2 Steep slopes can slide in unusually wet weather. Large rocks can also roll down steep slopes and present a great danger to people and property.

4.3 Expansive soils, such as Bentonite Clay (which is common in the foothills) can buckle concrete foundations and twist steel I-beams. You can know the soil conditions on your property if you have a soil test performed or check with the local Conservation District office for a soil map. Before spending funds on landscaping components such as trees, shrubs and lawns, you may want to have both your water source and soil tested to determine whether they will support plant life.

4.4 North facing slopes or canyons rarely see direct sunlight in the winter. There is a possibility that snow will accumulate and not melt throughout the winter. This can affect access on or off property and create structural impacts as well.

4.5 Winds can come from any direction at any season. The influence on road access, structure, heating costs, and collecting debris – especially dust – can be substantial. It can also impact a person’s mental well-being if you’re not used to it.

4.6 The topography of the land can tell you where the water will go in case of heavy precipitation. When property owners fill in ravines, they have found that the water that drained through that ravine now drains through their house.

4.7 A flash flood can occur, especially during the summer months, and can turn a dry gully into a river. It is wise to take this possibility into consideration when building. 4.8 Spring run-off can cause a very small creek to become a major river. Many residents use sand bags to protect their homes. The county does not provide sand bags, equipment or people to protect private property from flooding.

4.9 Nature can provide you with some wonderful neighbors. Most can be positive additions to the environment. However, animals such as deer can cross the road unexpectedly and cause traffic accidents. Rural development encroaches on the traditional habitat of animals of all kinds, including predators such as coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and bears. Some creatures such as skunks, raccoons, porcupines, and rattlesnakes can be nuisances, and some can be damaging to property, people and pets. Still other pests include mosquitoes. Many of these can be dangerous or create health hazards. You need to know how to deal with the various consequences of co-habitating in their environments. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department and the United States Forest Service are two good resources for information. They have many free publications to help educate you about living with the wildlife.

AGRICULTURE

Agriculture is an important business in Johnson County. Green fields in Johnson County are a result of the development of irrigation systems. The farmers and ranchers tamed this wild land. They have played a key role as a part of the economic base of the county and are perhaps the main reason there is still open space to enjoy. The spirit of their activities holds a special place in the minds of many, but the reality of their activities may influence your lifestyle in different ways.

5.1 Ranchers and farmers often work around the clock, especially during planting and harvest time. Ranchers are often swathing and baling at night. It is possible that adjoining agriculture uses can disturb your peace and quiet.

5.2 Land preparation and other operations can cause dust, especially during windy and dry weather.

5.3 Ranchers occasionally burn their ditches to keep them clean of debris, weeds and other obstructions. This burning creates smoke that you may find objectionable.

5.4 Chemicals (mainly fertilizers and herbicides) are often used in growing crops. You may be sensitive to these substances and many people actually have severe allergic reactions. Many of these chemicals are applied by airplanes that fly early in the morning.

5.5 Animals and their manure can cause objectionable odors. If you move to the country to enjoy the natural life, remember this too is part of the natural life.

5.6 Agriculture is an important business in Johnson County. If you choose to live among the farms and ranches of our rural countryside, do not expect the county government to intervene in the normal day-today operations of your agri-business neighbors. In fact, Wyoming courts have precedence cases that protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance and liability lawsuits. Title 11, Chapter 44 of the Wyoming State Statutes, entitled the “Wyoming Right to Farm and Ranch Act” specifically protects farmers and ranchers from nuisance and liability lawsuits. These protections enable them to continue producing food and fiber.

5.7 Wyoming has an open range law. This means that if you do not want cattle, horses or other livestock on your property, it is your responsibility to fence them out. It is not the responsibility of the livestock owner to keep his/her livestock off of your property. If you have sheep, you must fence them in. It is unlawful for pets to harass, kill or wound livestock and wildlife you are responsible. Be aware that domestic cats kill many thousands of small mammals and birds each year.

5.8 All county roads in Johnson County are designated as “stock trails.” Livestock owners routinely drive stock on some of these routes. You may need to install a fence and a gate or cattle guard to keep livestock off of your property during these events.

5.9 Before buying land, you should know if it has noxious weeds that may be expensive to control and you may be required to control them. Some plants are poisonous to horses and other livestock. Check with your University of Wyoming Area Extension Educator and/or the Johnson County Weed & Pest Office for more information.

5.10 Much of Johnson County receives less than 15 inches of precipitation per year – typically it is less. Without irrigation, native range grass production is variable and can be limited in dry years. When too many grazing animals use a pasture, overgrazing results. As a consequence, when overgrazing of rangeland occurs, we have a problem with fugitive dust and weeds. There is a limit to the amount of grazing the land can handle, whether it be by horses, sheep or cattle – or rabbits, deer and antelope. The University of Wyoming Area Extension Educator or the local Conservation District office can help you with these issues.

IN CONCLUSION

Even though you pay property taxes to the county, the amount of tax collected does not cover the cost of the services provided to rural residents. In general, those living in the cities help support the lifestyle of those who live in the country by making up the shortfall between the cost of services and the revenues received from rural dwellers. This information is by no means exhaustive. There are other issues that you may encounter that we have overlooked and we encourage you to be vigilant in your duties to explore and examine those things that could cause your move to be less than you expected. We have offered these comments in the sincere hope that it can help you enjoy your decision to reside in Johnson County. It is not our intent to dissuade you, but to inform you.

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Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.