Why a Wetlands Ordinance Now?
February 06, 2008
The reason is that it is long overdue -- other towns already have them.
The objectives of the 1989 Town of Washington Master Plan include protecting the community's many resources for the future by enhancing the rural quality of the community and protecting environmentally sensitive areas and natural resources, waterways, flood plains and wetlands by establishing guidelines and regulating development density.
This means to do this has been in our Towns Zoning Code since the last Master Plan update in 1989. It exists under Section 328. WETLANDS AND WATERCOURSES. However, it is not presently applicable, because it required the Town Board to adapt a "Wetlands and Watercourses Map," which to date they have not. By failing to do this, they have prevented this section from being enforced.
In 2004, the Town of Washington, after a failed attempt in 2000, decided to revisit the Wetlands Ordinance concept. A committee was formed and the results of their efforts were presented at a public hearing this January.
The below quote for the new proposed ordinance explains its intent and the importance of it to the Town of Washington.
"It is the purpose of the "Wetlands and Watercourses Law of the Town of Washington" to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town of Washington by preventing despoliation and destruction of wetlands, water bodies and watercourses, and wetland/water body/watercourse buffers collectively referred to herein as "regulated areas," recognizing their varying ecological, water quality, supply and recreational values. The Town of Washington hereby regulates activities that may cause significant adverse effect or environmental impact to the function served by regulated areas or the benefit derived therefrom.
It is further the purpose of this Law to enact regulations which will preserve, protect and conserve wetlands, potable water sources and watercourses and the benefits derived therefrom, prevent the despoliation and destruction of wetlands and watercourses, and regulate use and development of such areas consistent with the general welfare and beneficial economic, social and agricultural development of the Town of Washington through the requirement of permits therefor, providing for the protection and control of wetlands, water bodies, potable water sources and watercourses."
It's a good start, but it's not perfect. It inexplicably fails to mention vernal pools, which are a critical part of the wetlands complex; and doesn’t incorporate the Hudsonia Habitat Mapping series as part of the review criteria. It also gives broad exemptions to agricultural activities and activities of the Village of Millbrook. (For instance, the Village draws water from an important aquifer in the Mabbettsville section of the Town, and Millbrook’s Waste Water Facility Plant discharges into the East Branch of the Wappingers Creek, a major tributary in the town.)
There are still some administrative and enforcement issues that also need to be addressed.
Checks and balances have to be added to prevent a future Town Board from arbitrarily and unilaterally removing wetlands from the official maps without expert involvement and agreement by the Planning Board and the Conservation Advisory Committee. It also gives too much discretionary power to the zoning administrator, who should not be the only person to decide if the wetlands threshold has been triggered when a preliminary application is submitted.
In addition, the penalty section of the law needs teeth. Large developers have deep pockets and are often willing to absorb what to them are trivial fines.
A more complete list of suggestions can be found in submissions made to the Wetlands Committee by three local, accredited authorities: Dave Clouser, Dr. Michael Klemens, and William Schlesinger.
As of this writing the Town Board has directed the Wetlands Committee to reconvene and address some of these concerns.
We support this and the passage of this much needed ordinance, with the caveat that the Town makes the necessary improvements and does so in an expedient manner.