Text of the Wetlands and Vernal Pool Ordinances to Be Taken Up by the City Council on September 6

Here for your reference is the text of the wetlands and vernal pools ordinances that will be taken up by the City Council on September 6. The Council is expected to follow the recommendation of the Ordinance Committee to defer voting on the vernal pools ordinance in favor of further discussion.

Proposed Wetlands Ordinance (PDF)

Proposed Vernal Pools Ordinance (PDF)

Among our concerns:

1) The role of wetlands in flood mitigation is underappreciated. In Northampton’s Flood Mitigation Plan, approved by the City Council in 2004, the 100-foot buffer zone around wetlands was recognized as an effective existing mitigation strategy.

In 1999, a portion of the property proposed for development by Kohl Construction suffered flood damage in Tropical Storm Floyd.

2) Filled and disturbed wetlands have not been included in the scope of wetlands protection. An example of regulations that extend this protection is found in Chilmark. Northampton’s Flood Mitigation Plan recognizes that building on filled wetlands is risky, and recommends that “Development in historically filled wetlands should be discouraged through zoning in order to protect health and safety.”

Parts of Kohl’s condo site may qualify as filled wetlands. They contain debris from work on Market Street.

3) The proposed Wetlands Ordinance discusses at some length allowing developers to compensate for the wetlands they harm by establishing artificial or replacement wetlands. Unfortunately, these replication projects often turn out badly, with algae blooms, floating pollution, much reduced biodiversity, and rampant mosquito breeding. See this slideshow to compare the beauty of natural wetlands with the non-beauty of man-made wetlands.

Kohl’s condo plans call for five detention pools close by the condos. This technique is often used to make artificial wetlands.

4) The role of greenspace in moderating urban temperatures and improving air quality is underappreciated. Building homes close to town to encourage walking and provide city services economically is laudable. However, when this reduces the quality of life and increases the flooding risk for existing residents, a balance of interests must be struck.

See also:

The Why Files: Wetlands and floods
Restoration can work if the soils and water flow have not been altered too drastically, says Joy Zedler, a professor of restoration ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But the practice of destroying a natural wetland and replacing it with a new one built elsewhere (so-called “mitigation”) is much more problematic, says Zedler, who chairs a National Research Council study on wetland mitigation. Unless the new wetland is in the natural stream flow, it may be worthless for reducing floods.

Many constructed wetlands don’t work to provide natural habitat either, Zedler adds. In one case, permanent wetlands were built around Portland, Ore., to replace natural marshes lost to development. “Permanent marshes are not a feature of the landscape there,” Zedler says, so “they needed a new [geological] classification for them.” Among other problems, the ponds attracted exotic bullfrogs, which devour native amphibians.

Overall, Zedler says that while some people say mitigation can succeed, “The scientific, peer-reviewed stuff pretty much points out problems.”