Saturday, February 5, 2011

Consolidating municipal wetlands agencies into districts - an idea whose time has come?

DEP has recently responded to an inquiry from a wetlands agent in Fairfield County about the legality of establishing a multi-town wetlands agency. The catalyst came in the form of a warning from the chief elected official to the agent to be well versed in the topic of consolidation, given the upcoming budget struggles. The wetlands act has provided authority for multi-town districts since its passage in 1972 with this wording in General Statutes § 22a-42 (e):

"Any municipality, pursuant to ordinance, may act through the board or commission authorized in subsection (c) of this section to join with any other municipalities in the formation of a district for the regulation of activities affect the wetlands and watercourses within such district."

. . . and no municipality has taken the opportunity to protect its resources in that way. Too difficult to figure out how to appoint fewer people to manage multi-town resources? It can't be more difficult than establishing regional schools. We don't manage our other natural resources or environmental issues on a town-by-town basis: air, hazardous waste, pesticides. Will it take the current recession to put a chink in the mote of home rule?

I'd like to envision fewer wetlands agencies in a number of consolidated districts, based on watersheds, so that there could be meaningful, consistent policy implemented across town lines. With fewer commissions there would be a need for fewer commission members. The competition would be so stiff to get on a commission that candidates would pledge to complete DEP training and reenroll for Segment II (legal updates) every year in order to be appointed. By then, DEP would have many opportunities for training webinars and DVDs, in addition to the immutable core of live training. The preapplication process would be heavily relied on and professional handled, so that applicants wouldn't waste time in lengthy, unproductive hearings, but would receive clear signals that they could plan projects around. The few municipal holdouts would be gazing, with such longing, at the successful and fiscally prudent regulation of wetlands and watercourses that they would eventually petition to join a district.

In my lifetime?

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