Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nick Alfieri: Why the Conservation Commission Requires a Permit to Work In or Near Wetlands

Franklin residents and contractors commonly ask, “Why do I need to file for a permit in order to do this work?” which is often followed by “This is my property and I have the right to do whatever I want”, or “How can this work affect those wetlands over there?” You may be thinking similarly, so how does working in or near a wetland resource area effect residents of the Town and why should we care? To answer, we all must have an understanding of the science behind wetlands, what they are and how they perform, as well as an understanding of social responsibility and public policy.

Wetlands are lands saturated with water, year round or seasonally, and act as the transition zone between land and water. Aside from the presence of water (or hydrology), the limit of wetlands are determined by particular soil types, vegetation, and topography, creating a unique ecosystem. This unique ecosystem has the ability to control floods by acting like a sponge to contain and absorb floodwater, which can alleviate property damage and loss and can even save lives. In addition, wetlands filter excess nutrients that threaten rivers, lakes, and other water bodies, and provides critical habitat which can often be used for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and bird-watching.

Despite all the benefits provided by wetlands, the United States loses about 60,000 acres of wetlands each year to invasive species of plants and animals, pollutants, and global climate change. The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (WPA) was created to protect against this loss and degradation. The functions and characteristics of wetlands that the WPA seeks to protect fall into three main categories, water quality/water supply and pollution protection, storm damage and flood control and wildlife habitat and fisheries protection. By protecting the functions and characteristics of wetlands in Franklin, the businesses and residents are protected as well.

When someone buys property in Franklin, they buy the land, the structures on the land, and they buy a set of conditional rights and responsibilities tied to the property. In Franklin, Zoning is the best illustration of this because all properties in Franklin are subject to the Town’s Zoning Bylaw that outlines the rights of the property owners based upon zoning district, regulates building setbacks, open space requirements, building heights, etc. It is the property owner’s responsibility to know what and how they can build in their respective zoning district to ensure compliance. People who own property within Conservation jurisdiction also have unique rights and responsibilities.

Conservation jurisdiction is any area of wetlands, streams or water bodies and their corresponding buffer of 100 ft for wetlands and most water bodies, and 200 ft for a perennial or year-round stream. If your property falls within this area and you intend to do work within any of these areas, it is your responsibility to file for a permit with the Conservation Commission in order to ensure that the vitality of these areas is protected.

Not only is it your responsibility to file for a Conservation permit, but it is your responsibility to preserve and protect the functions and characteristics of the associated wetlands where you intend to do the work. You are a Steward of those wetlands for the good of all residents of Franklin.

If anyone has questions or comments they can call the Franklin Conservation Department at 508-520-4929, or just stop in between 8:00 am till 4:00 pm, Monday through Thursday and speak with someone directly.

Nick Alfieri, Franklin Conservation Agent 

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