Conservation officials adopt new rules for wetlands, watercourses
In an effort to more accurately define wetland boundaries and streamline its permitting process, the town's Conservation Department will enact on July 1 a new set of policies that will affect building projects on properties on or near wetlands and watercourses.
The town will require project applicants to hire a soil a scientist to delineate their properties' wetland and watercourse boundaries for site planning and development review, according to a new set of regulations developed by the department and then approved in March by the Conservation Commission. The existing conservation regulations do not require applicants to hire a soil scientist if they are not proposing to amend a town wetlands map to facilitate a building project.
If town conservation staff approve an applicant-hired soil scientist's wetland and watercourse boundaries, they will immediately issue the applicant a wetland permit. Conservation Department staff would then present an applicant's proposed amendment to town wetland maps to the commission at a public hearing.
Commission approval of a proposed map amendment usually constitutes a "formality," according to Conservation Director Alicia Mozian.
The town's conservation regulations currently allow conservation officials to grant a wetlands permit only after the Conservation Commission approves an applicant's proposed amendment to town wetlands maps. The commission receives about 30 wetland map amendment applications each year, according to Mozian.
Conservation officials currently use large-scale, generalized wetland maps from 1983 that include 1975 aerial photographs, remote sensing techniques and some field checking to determine wetland boundaries. During the last two years, however, town officials have discovered between 10 and 15 building projects that violated or could have violated town conservation regulations, despite those applications' apparent compliance with town wetland maps, Mozian said.
"The town wetland maps are only meant as a guide," she said. "They're not gospel and not meant to be an exact delineation of the wetland boundary is. We're proposing this as a way of helping the applicant know upfront if there are wetlands or not when they're planning their project."
Most towns in the state already require building project applicants to hire their own soil scientists to delineate a property's wetland boundaries, Mozian said. The new policies will apply to large projects such as new homes, home additions, pools, pool houses, tennis courts, detached garages, new septic systems, large grading and drainage projects, and possibly driveway expansions or relocations. The new directives will apply to these projects regardless of whether current town maps show the presence of wetlands on or near applicants' properties.
Small projects may be exempted from the new policies if conservation staff determine that those undertakings would have no more than a minimal impact on any wetland, Mozian said.
If Conservation Department staff question the accuracy of the wetlands and/or watercourses boundary outlined by an applicant's soil scientist, the town would, at the applicant's expense, hire a second soil scientist to verify the applicant's proposed wetlands and/or watercourses boundary.
The Conservation Department's soil scientists and applicants' soil scientists eventually agree on wetlands and watercourse boundaries "99.5 percent of the time," Mozian said. After those soil scientists establish a property's wetlands and/or watercourse boundaries, the Conservation Department would issue a wetlands permit to an applicant.
Conservation officials also plan to lower application fees for wetlands map amendments. Such applications currently cost at least $650, depending on property size, but map amendment fees would drop to $200 across the board, if the Representative Town Meeting approves conservation officials' proposed fee changes.
Wetland map amendments for building projects requiring a second soil scientist would also be presented by Conservation Department staff to the Conservation Commission during a public hearing.
Conservation Department staff may waive its map amendment application requirement for any of the following reasons:
A map amendment for a property was already completed and approved.
The applicant provides a report and a map from a soil scientist that shows the location of the wetlands and/or watercourses or that none exist on the property.
Any other resources available or presented to Conservation Department staff show there are no wetlands and/or watercourses on a property.
A field review by conservation staff determines the unlikelihood of wetlands and/or watercourses.
If staffers deny an applicant's request for a waiver, an applicant may appeal that decision to the Conservation Commission.
The commission will review the new wetlands and watercourse policies six months after their enactment to determine if they need any changes, Mozian added.
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