May 5 Letter to Gazette: “Don’t relax Northampton’s protection of wetlands”

Joanne Montgomery has kindly given us permission to reprint her letter to the Gazette, published in May 2007:

To the editor:

I am writing to urge broader coverage of opposition to the city’s proposed Amended Wetlands Ordinance. The city’s new business-friendly proposals would skew the process in favor of developers at the expense of wetlands and environmental protections. Many residents and experts oppose the proposed changes. Living in this time of growing environmental threats, we should be increasing wetlands protections, not reducing them.

In 1989, Northampton passed a wetlands ordinance – still in effect today – with stronger wetlands protections than minimal state standards. It established a 100-foot vegetated “buffer zone” around wetlands and vernal pools to protect their functioning and, indeed, their existence.

These protections are now in jeopardy, because the city is proposing to roll back the 100-foot buffer in many parts of the city and permit developers to build as close as 10 feet from a wetland. This is a gratuitous and dangerous giveaway of protected open space, wildlife habitat and wetlands. Developers already enjoy many incentives, and the rapid pace of ongoing development tells us that existing regulations are not too restrictive for them. Why loosen the rules to benefit them even more?

We should all be worried about how these rollbacks would harm basic wetland functions, such as flood control and water quality. But I am most worried about the thousands of animals, birds and amphibians that live in and rely on these wetland buffer zones for survival. Many are already in distress statewide and nationwide because of habitat loss. They will die as a result of this proposal. Barrett Street Marsh Conservation Area, and the wetlands abutting Cooley Dickinson Hospital/Smith Vocational, are only two examples of areas that would be affected.

I urge fuller coverage and public scrutiny of these harmful changes and of the pro-development interests that are pushing for them.

Joanne Montgomery

See also:

Proposed Changes to Northampton Wetlands Protection: Making Way for Infill
The Ordinance Committee will discuss these ordinances in a public meeting on July 24, 6:00pm at 212 Main Street in City Council Chambers. We encourage citizens to attend.

Wetlands protection is a priority for NSNA… There is concern that “infill” is being excessively prioritized over urban wetlands and forests.