Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Consequence of Good Government

Today I daylight the promulgation of a longstanding "policy" of the Stamford wetlands agency, the Environmental Protection Board, into regulation as of April 6, 2010. According to Dave Emerson, the longstanding staff person to the EPB, the board has had a longstanding "informal policy" of "no net loss" policy for wetlands and watercourses. Just to review, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act does not establish a policy of "no net loss" of wetlands and watercourses. It sets forth a process to be implemented at the municipal level, a process of balancing natural resource considerations with use of property. Each municipal agency, if it follows the law (the statutes and the case law precedent), can draw that line where it wishes.

Earlier this year I reported on a legislative proposal that was an attempt to circumscribe the use of policy or guidance statements that have been relied on by regulators as regulations, without having been adopted as regulations. In the wetlands context I reflected on how the Connecticut Stormwater Quality Manual and the 2002 Connecticut Guidelines for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control are too frequently referred to as "standards" by municipal wetlands agencies.

The EPB, according to Dave Emerson, was influenced by that post to cogitate on its "longstanding informal policy" of no net loss. Through regulatory action, and approved by the Stamford Board of Representatives, the EPB has added subsection (c) to Section 1.3 to its regulations, the "no net loss" policy, as follows:

In the furtherance of the foregoing goals the Environmental Protection Board hereby adopts a “no net loss policy for all wetlands and watercourses.” In furtherance of the no net loss policy, the EPB may require wetland mitigation that may include Avoidance by evaluating alternative development designs and sites; Minimization by implementing special design features and construction practices so that impacts to wetlands can be minimized; and Compensation by offsetting remaining wetland losses through measures to, in the following order of priority, enhance and create productive wetland or watercourse resources either onsite or offsite.

Now, everyone is on equal footing. You don't have to be the longstanding staff person to the board, or a longstanding member of the board, or a longstanding local watchdog. You can file an application for the first time or pick up the regulations tomorrow and realize everyone is going to be addressing no net loss when the application comes up. Exactly the reason that important policies that are used uniformly need to be adopted as regulations.

As the mother of two teenagers I am called upon (too often) to comment on acts (foolish, thoughtless or worse) and their consequences (pouting, punishment, and general family agita). It's the "act/consequences" discussion. So, I am happy to congratulate the Stamford Environmental Protection Board on turning its thoughts into action. An action which serves applicants, concerned citizens and every person appearing for the first time before the Stamford wetlands agency.

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