Inland Wetlands Commissions Use Objective Standards, Decisions are Not NIMBYism

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To the Editor:

Another Connecticut news source recently ran an article which stated that housing advocates were suspicious of local inland wetland commissions for hampering or rejecting housing developments — the article even went as far as suggesting that these commissions are possible local “NIMBY tools.”

In fact, nothing can be further from the truth.

Like many allegations over the somewhat complex discussions on housing development, salient facts are sometimes overlooked and real legitimate concerns on development can sometimes be easily brushed aside as NIMBYism. In fact, the process on how wetland commissions work is very important to consider when placing these commissions’ decisions or motivations in to any context.

Importantly, what is (and isn’t) wetlands is based on a totally objective standard; wetlands are determined, in the State of Connecticut, by a qualified soil scientist. In Connecticut, wetlands are solely determined by the scientific analysis of the soil type. There is no subjective standard used by wetland commissions in determining what is (and isn’t) wetlands in Connecticut. 

Any purchaser or potential developer of land can ascertain wetlands by their own requisite due diligence at the time of the land purchase and also can generally be guided by municipal wetlands maps that are readily and publicly available.  

The jurisdiction of the relevant environmental protection commission is entirely limited to the wetlands area and includes, typically, a 50 foot “upland review area.” Regulation beyond the narrowly defined jurisdictional area is generally not permissible under enabling statutes and case law.

If someone’s property consists of wetlands, they are the custodian (and, may I say, guardian) of a valuable natural resource; and should not expect that they will have a right to build on, develop, fill or pave-over such wetlands. Additionally, “discounts” on land acquisition prices and municipal land value tax assessments reflect the economic reality that such wetlands have a limited development opportunity. Reputable and experienced developers certainly well know all this and, accordingly, plan for it in any project that may contain wetlands.

In summary, wetland commissions, often called “inland wetlands” or “environmental protection” commissions, are not permitted to regulate beyond their area of jurisdictional responsibility (e.g., beyond the wetlands or the very limited upland review area as prescribed by regulation). They operate under probably the most objective and scientific standards of almost any other municipal commission or board.

Fresh water has been deemed to be a “finite” resource in the State of Connecticut. That our state abuts the very ecologically vulnerable Long Island Sound makes the mission of these commissions even more essential and critical in relation to protecting the environment, the state’s water supply, and the natural habitat that depend upon this very important natural resource.

To suggest that inland wetlands commissions are some sort of NIMBY adjunct is an unfortunate and inaccurate characterization of the good work that these commissions perform.

Peter McGuinness
Darien

Peter McGuinness is an attorney and a commissioner on the Darien Environmental Protection Commission