A Statement from Robert Bissell on the Wetland Ordinance Debate

Robert Bissell has kindly allowed us to publish the following statement on NorthAssoc.org…

In a major disappointment for conservationists, the Vernal Pool provisions (PDF) were deleted from the Wetlands Ordinance at the Ordinance Committee meeting in late July. These provisions were the product of over two years’ worth of effort from concerned citizens, wetlands experts and members of the Conservation Commission.

The Northampton Chamber of Commerce is responsible for this major setback to the Wetlands Ordinance. Before the meeting it had appeared likely that the Ordinance Committee would pass the intact Wetlands Ordinance on to the City Council. However, at the 11th hour the Chamber of Commerce presented a new report from a paid consultant. The Councilors were given the report only the night before. No one else in the room, including members of the Conservation Commission, saw the report before the meeting. The report raised some questions about the Vernal Pool provisions and each councilor cited the report as reason to delete the Vernal Pool provisions from the Wetlands Ordinance.

The remainder of the Wetlands Ordinance (without the Vernal Pool provisions) has been sent on to City Council and will likely be voted on at the September 6 meeting. Some conservationists feel the gutted ordinance is now so weak that it does not merit support. The ordinance appears likely to pass City Council, though there may be attempts to weaken it even more! Councilor David Murphy stated he would like to change the replication wording, and there is an early indication that the Chamber will also support this change. This would further weaken the ordinance.

It is still possible to pass strong Vernal Pool provisions. Presumably the Vernal Pool provisions will be sent back to the Conservation Commission for more work. To their credit, Suzanne Beck and Rick Feldman have now pledged diligent work to pass “stronger and better” Vernal Pool provisions – they say this can be accomplished “within a month or two.”

Here are three suggestions, all of which would help establish that the Chamber is sincere in seeking to enact a stronger and better wetlands ordinance, and wants to have a good working relationship with conservationists. I suggest the first two because they are areas in which conservationists compromised their position in exchange for the Vernal Pool provisions. Since everything is now up for grabs it makes sense to reconsider these areas.

  1. Create an increased downtown buffer zone

  2. Create greater protections for the Route 10 Wildlife Corridor

  3. Prevent any weakening of the replication language in the current Wetlands Ordinance.
Replication rarely if ever works – that’s why destruction of wetlands should rarely be allowed, and the reason for the 200% replication language. The science further shows that 200-foot buffers are not adequate Vernal Pool protection. The vast majority of Vernal Pools require more than 500 feet for reasonable protection. The figure of 200 feet was chosen as a reasonable compromise – fair to all sides.

I urge the Chamber and our elected officials to consider all the scientific evidence that has been made available, and not rely on the opinions of any single expert.

Dr. Bissell is president of the Broad Brook Coalition. However, the views expressed in this statement are his alone, and are not meant to coincide with the opinions of Broad Brook or any other group.

See also:

Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce: Information about Northampton’s Proposed Wetlands and Vernal Pool Regulations
“The Chamber does support the passage of a local Wetlands Ordinance that strengthens the protection of wetlands and vernal pools.” (8/3/07 Issue Update PDF)

NSNA Circulates Northampton Trees & Wetlands Petition

Benefits of Urban Wetlands and Their Buffer Areas

Alewife Study Group: Impact of Development on Wetlands and Flooding

Belchertown Wetlands Regulations

Intermittent Streams Merit a 100-Foot Buffer Zone in Hopkinton