Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Environmental Outlaw Turns Herself In

This is why I have been feeling so down about the garden lately.

Town of Franklin Municipal Services Guide: Message from the Conservation Commission

“. . .The Conservation Commission would like to remind all residents that live within 100 feet of a wetland or within 200 feet of a stream or river to talk with a Conservation Agent prior to undertaking any activity that requires disturbing soil; pruning or cutting of trees or brush; or building of any structure within these areas. . . Failure to obtain a permit prior to conducting work within Conservation jurisdiction may result in an Enforcement Order requiring the work to stop and a fine of $300/day under the Town’s Conservation ByLaw. In addition, and Enforcement Order could result in fines from the State of $25,000 per day. . .”

Oh shit.

Dear Conservation Agent,

I am a homeowner in Franklin, and I am an avid organic gardener. I have been working to include more wildlife-friendly features, native plants, and water-conservation methods in my yard. It has also come to my attention that I may have inadvertently violated our wetland laws. I need some help to determine if I have done something that I shouldn’t have, and if so, what I must do to put things right again.

Our property includes protected wetlands along one side. Extending in from the protected area is a wide swath of perpetually muddy forest floor, populated primarily by skunk cabbage. I built a short path into this area using sand excavated from elsewhere in the yard. I also dug a hole in the mud in one spot to make a tiny frog pond, and I trimmed branches from a poison sumac that were overhanging the lawn and posing a hazard to visitors.

My intent with this activity was to be able to show my family and friends the beauty of our wetlands, so I am quite embarrassed to discover that I may have done something harmful. I should have checked with you first to see if I needed a permit. I am now deeply afraid that I will be fined for what I did, because I can’t afford to pay a large fine.

What do I need to do to undo any harm I have done and to be in compliance with the law?

Thank you.
Embarassed Homeowner

Embarrassed Homeowner -

Thank you very much for your responsible attitude and willingness to make this right. I will talk with the Commission and seek their input on what to do next. In the mean time I will provide you with the permitting options as well as a few facts about wetlands.

Wetlands do not have to have water on the surface in order to be considered a wetlands. We use a three prong approach to determining the extent of a wetlands. They are 1) more than 50% wetlands vegetation, 2) soil morphology and 3) ground water depth. By combining all three variables we come up with a line that represents the extent of the wetlands. However, we also have jurisdiction on the property that is located within 100 feet of wetlands and 200 feet from a rivers bank (these are called buffer zone areas). If the area is located within the wetlands or within either buffer zone, you need to obtain a permit from the Conservation Commission prior to starting work.

There are four (4) different types of permits the Conservation Commission can grant. I will discuss them in the order of least difficult to fill out and be permitted to do to the most difficult to fill out and the hardest to obtain.

1) Minor Buffer Zone Activity.

2) Request for Determination.

3) Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation.

4) Notice of Intent

We can discuss permitting options after I speak with the Commission. You will have to let me know what is you name and address. If you fail to provide us with the requested information the Commission will take a legal steps required to find out who you are. It will be much better if you provide the requested information. As far as fines are concerned I would expect only a small fine of around $75. You can always request that the fine be waived especially since you came to us as opposed to us finding out from someone else. I will be in touch next week.

Take care,

[name withheld to be polite], Agent
Franklin Conservation Commission.

The conservation agent will be paying a visit to our yard soon to take a look. He sounded friendly and sympathetic on the phone. I am greatly relieved at the small size of the fine he mentioned. I am paranoid that he might find something massively in violation in our yard, but I am also relieved to be getting this over with. And there is a small part of me hoping that he will be impressed with our gardening efforts, as well as my willingness to work with him.


Father William said...

Dear Homeowner I applaud your honesty and desire to comply. It is amazing how no good deed goes unpunished.

Anonymous said...

Oh no! I sure hope it goes well. Good luck!

Michelle said...

Thanks guys.

hero爺 said...

Uh.....? I don't understand how making a path in YOUR yard could break the law. That's strange!

Michelle said...

Hero: there are many laws here about what people can do on their own property. As another example, I don't think I could build a supermarket here. :) Not that I want to build a supermarket.

We have good laws in place to protect our fragile wetlands. I think they are good laws - I just didn't know about them.

Anonymous said...

The Massachusetts Wetlands Act regulations allow for a private landowner to create a foot path on one's property and to plant native plants, as well as a few other minor activities, WITHOUT applying to the local ConCom for permission or filing a notice of intent. The jurisdiction of the ConCom may be enlarged by local ordinance. I do not believe it is possible to create a foot path (which is not defined in the law or regulations as to its size, extent or nature) or to plant native plants without disturbing soil, cutting branches and even removing invasive plants to make way. In addition, it is certainly contrary to the spirit of the law to allow bittersweet, multiflora rose, mile a minute etc. to run rampant, procreating and killing native plants and every other plant in their path. I consider it a trespass to allow seeds and roots from invasives to enter my property from a neighbor's, not that I can take action of any sort. The fact is we will have no wetlands, no trees and no oxygen if the residents and officials proceed to enforce the Act in a narrow unenlightened manner. Really gets me mad.