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.