Monday, March 10, 2014

This is not a call for a return to the stocks of 1650*

          Our survey of municipal wetlands regulations is 95% complete.  My intern and I didn’t find an effective way to reach eight towns.  If we reach those towns, we would revise the 2013 survey and replace it with a 2014 one.  If anyone is a member of the wetlands agency for any of the following towns, I would sure like to hear from you:

          Bozrah,  Canaan,  Colebrook,  Hartland,  Marlborough,  Stratford, Wolcott

Contact me at  100% response, how cool would that be?

Next entry – the color yellow: the authority to regulate outside established upland review areas.

* but here they are – unused: click here 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Seeking municipal wetlands regulations

          I decided to keep it simple.  I started examining the definition of “regulated activity” in the regulations of a few towns.  I wanted to compare the actual wording of regulations and I wanted to get it done in three months – so that I could present my findings at a workshop at the CACIWC annual meeting in November 2013.  I was finding regulations easily online through each town’s website – at least for the towns I started with.  After reading the excerpted regulations, I  paraphrased their content.  Not a good technique.  So, I retraced my trail and created files of the actual verbatim text of regulations.  Then I discovered that certain regulations weren’t there anymore or at least I couldn’t find them (Danbury) or the link was broken (Brookfield).  Too late for me, the second time around I also started compiling the links to all of the regulations as I found them. 
          Looking up the regulations for 169 towns was made a great deal easier by the “towns and cities webpage” on  That page contains an alphabetical list of Connecticut towns.  When you click on a town name, you are transported to the town’s website.  Very nifty.  Once I had finished my reconnaissance of a few select towns, I settled down to plodding alphabetically through the list.
          I headed straight to “regulated activity” in the definition sections of the regulations.  If there was no mention of an upland review area, I searched for “upland review area” in the regulations.  When I bumped into “vegetated buffers” in the “B”s (Bloomfield) I went back and added that to my search.  I also looked for specific definitions of “vernal pool” or regulations treating vernal pools in a separate manner.  And then, I kept notes and verbatim text of anything else that piqued my curiosity.  I had plenty of data to evaluate.
          Once it became clear that 25% of the towns did not have their wetlands regulations online, I realized this undertaking with a mid-November deadline was no longer a one-woman project.  I started making telephone calls to over 40 towns in hopes that staff would fax or email sections of their wetlands regulations.  Telephone tag, no staff listed online, staff in some towns work one or two days only, etc.  I turned to my alma mater, Wesleyan University.  Through some fortuitous turn of events, I, desperately seeking assistance, was destined to meet up with Vanessa Castello, desirous of an environmental law internship, Class of 2015, a double major (earth & environmental science/anthropology).  I offered her a tutorial on Connecticut wetlands law, the opportunity to co-present our findings at the CACIWC annual meeting, free rein at graphics to accompany our presentation and eternal recognition.  (Hey, our materials for the conference are posted on the CACIWC website.)  She offered me her time, phenomenal graphics (3-D!) and patience as she taught me how to use google docs so that we could both work on it at the same time.  (You can teach an old dog . . . )
          When I finished my first round of online searches, I had located regulations for 75% of the towns.  Vanessa took the 25% and found another 5% online.  (New dogs can do some things better . . .) Then, between the two of us, we placed calls to the remaining 20% of the towns. We estimate that another 5% of the towns immediately put their wetlands regulations online when we disclosed we couldn’t find them. Unexpected service!  Staff from a variety of municipal offices faxed or emailed us another 10% of the regulations.  At the end of the research phase, after having placed a minimum of three phone calls per unresponsive town, we didn’t hear back from 5% of the towns.  Our survey includes the results from 161 out of 169 towns, 95%.

75 %    regulations readily accessible online (well, I found them)
  5 %    additional regulations found by intern
  5 %    added by towns in response to survey
85 %    wetlands regulations currently online
10 %    regulations supplied by municipal staff or agency chairman
 95 %   Total
In the next phase I color-coded text for a variety of parameters (such as a uniform upland review area between wetlands and watercourse, variable upland review area, specific definition for vernal pool, and other topics.)  Vanessa crunched the colors and created graphics to represent the data.
Our survey is as up-to-date as the municipal websites.  We did not check the online regulations with the official regulations filed with each town clerk.  Nor did we examine how the regulations are applied by the towns.
After a short plea to the eight as-of-yet unresponsive towns in the next post, we’ll then go color by color through the survey.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Odyssey to the shores of municipal wetlands regulations

             It all started last June when I received an email with a link to some “over-the-top” wetlands regulations establishing vegetated buffers. (You can only mow your lawn once a season and that is only if it was a “formal lawn” as of the effective date of the regulation.) I was asked if I knew about these municipal wetlands regulations.   Indeed I didn’t .  Although I had worked with a loose consortium of environmental interests for three legislative sessions on wording for a bill to protect vegetated buffers in the wetlands law, I don’t think any of us knew that some wetlands commissions had already adopted regulations.  I sent out the link to two attorneys, one who might have had a hand in guiding the regulations (Attorney Mark Branse swears he didn’t) and one in the attorney general’s office who may have sniffed around these regulations either from DEEP or from reviewing all appeals filed in superior court of municipal wetlands agency decisions (AAG David Wrinn swears similar to Mark Branse, at least in this regard).

              I began to wonder how many other towns had vegetated buffer or other anomalies in their regulations, which are not found in the 2006 versions of the model regulations developed by DEEP.  In a state of home rule that means 169 varieties of municipal wetlands regulations.  There is an entity to “exercise general supervision of the administration and enforcement” of the wetlands act, CGS § 22a-39 (a), and to “develop comprehensive programs in furtherance of the purposes” of the act, CGS § 22a-39 (b), and to “advise, consult and cooperate with other agencies . . .”, CGS § 22a-39 (c), and to “encourage, participate in or conduct studies, investigations, research and demonstrations, and collect and disseminate information, relating to the purposes of” the act, CGS § 22a-39 (d) -- it’s not a private citizen.  The Commissioner of DEEP has those duties and more. 

              Municipal agencies are required to send a copy of the public notice of proposed amendments to municipal regulations to DEEP at least 35 days prior to the scheduled public hearing.  CGS § 22a-42a (b).  True, the wetlands act doesn’t explicitly require DEEP to do anything with those regulations.  And indeed they don’t . . . do . . . anything . . . with proposed regulations.  This is not a recent behavioral change.  At some point, maybe in 2000, I read a memo from the DEP Inland Water Resources Division that DEP would no longer continue reviewing proposed municipal regulations as they were sent to DEP due to staff constraints.  At the time I was in the Attorney General’s Office working on wetlands issues; I approached as many DEP staff as possible to reverse that decision.  To no avail.

              During the summer of 2013 I continued to wonder about the variability (read: legality) of the permutations found within municipal wetlands regulations.  Those musings lay unexplored just like the grass growing in that formal lawn in that municipally-established vegetated buffer not yet ripe for its once-a-season cutting.

              I set off on my odyssey in September 2013 in which I began looking at the municipal regulations of a “few” municipalities which turned into an obsession and ultimately to a systematic examination of the municipal regulations of 95% of all towns.  I compiled and analyzed the definitions of “regulated activity” and the concepts, if they existed in the regulations, of upland review area, vernal pools and vegetated buffers.

              Next: methodology