Beef up wetlands enforcement? Commission considers ordinance

An ordinance proposal is in the works to allow the town wetlands agent to issue warnings and citations as an intermediate step before bringing suspected violators to a formal show-cause hearing before the Inland Wetlands Board.

“Another tool in the toolbelt,” said Wetlands agent Beth Peyser.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Inland Wetlands board member Tim Dunphy. “...This doesn’t weaken the teeth we have now, it just softens the process.”

Peyser and Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli brought the idea before the combined Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands board July 18, and got the go-ahead to take the concept before the selectmen.

If a new ordinance were drafted and proposed, its adoption would require positive votes from the selectmen and a town meeting.

Baldelli and Peyser said they didn’t know yet what size fines the ordinance might have for people who fail to correct violations  — the ordinance is still in the concept stage.

The adoption of ordinances allowing citations and warnings has worked well for problems on the Conservation Commission’s open space land, as part of the town’s anti-blight efforts, and he’s seen it work will for zoning issues, Baldelli told the commission.

“The fact that we have this ordinance is a remarkable tool for helping people understand that they need to comply with the town’s ordinances and regulations,” Baldelli said.

Peyser said she’d reviewed other nearby towns’ approach to wetlands problems.

“It seems the vast majority of neighboring towns have already created an ordinance and found it incredibly successful,” she said.

“This is a middle step. I could issue a warning without a fine, work with the homeowner, before bringing it before the Inland Wetlands Board.”

“It’s a document that allows the inland wetlands agent to use her discretion,” Baldelli said.

Resolving problems

Dunphy said the warning would be an appropriate tool in the many cases where homeowners had unknowingly violated wetlands regulations.

“Sometimes they do things without knowing they’re breaking the law,” he said. “This give a great way to work with them to remedy the situation without being contentious.”

Peyser, who also serves as the Conservation Commission’s enforcement officer, said that the citation process had made it easier for her to resolve problems on open space land.

“I’ve only given out warnings, and no violations have been necessary,” she said.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the board that while land use regulations generally allow previously existing situations to continue as legal non-conforming, ordinances can give officials the ability to pursue a problem even if it has long existed.

Tom Beecher, the town’s land use attorney, agreed.

“This would be a new tool to go after an old violation,” he said.