Monday, May 31, 2010

Training of wetlands agency members: Unfinished business, part I

There were two attempts to revise legislative bills affecting the wetlands law to address training of wetlands agency members. Because each of the underlying bills did not progress, neither did either attempt to address training. This issue is not going away. Expect to see legislative proposals next session. So, we'll review what was proposed in 2010.

I reported on efforts to protect natural vegetation near wetlands and watercourses over the course of the legislative session. Click here and here to read those entries. The Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE) proposed alternate language which a number of environmental groups endorsed in lieu of the legislative proposal. As part of that proposal the environmental groups proposed a simple addition to § 22a-42a(e), the statutory provision that allows agencies to impose a filing fee. As currently written, the law states:

The amount of such fee shall be sufficient to cover the reasonable cost of the reviewing and acting on applications and petitions, including, but not limited to, the costs of certified mailings, publications of notices and decisions and monitoring compliance with permit conditions or agency orders.

After the phrase "publications of notices and decision" the environmental groups endorsed adding "training of inland wetland agency members." I was a pretty strong vocal proponent of this amendment (instigator?) on the conference calls amongst the environmental groups supporting this bill. Many agencies say they don't have the funding to support training. DEP by law must allow one agency member to be trained at no cost per year. For those agencies with a lot of turnover or a lot of untrained members or members who wish to keep up with the case law and legislative changes, the costs of training can add up. Not a good time to be asking for a larger part of the municipal budget. This proposal was an attempt to generate an income stream for training from the those who would benefit greatly by trained members, the applicant pool.

The second proposal came from the Council on Environmental Quality when it commented on the bill concerning Enhancements to the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act. (I am an appointed member of the CEQ and supported the board's decision.) The CEQ comment proposed a sentence at the end of § 22a-42a(d), the statutory provision setting out the requirement that there must be one member of the agency or its staff who has completed the DEP comprehensive training. The CEQ proposed language:

On and after January 1, 2012, each agency shall state on the record, at the commencement of each hearing or meeting at which the agency will be considering one or more applications, petitions or requests, the number of members and staff that have received a certificate for completing the comprehensive training program issued pursuant to Section 22a-39(n).

Then, as the legislature would have it, those two bills were merged into "An Act Concerning the Preservation of Natural Vegetation near Wetlands and Watercourses and Certain Enhancements to the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act." Of this I'm certain: neither proposal regarding training made it into that merged bill. No matter -- the bill didn't go anywhere.

The CEQ has discussed the issue of a stand-alone bill on wetlands training for the next legislative session.

Conclusion at end of 2010 session: no new approach to training -- unfinished business.

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