I can always start an argument. I just sit down at any meeting and start asking about wetland buffers. Some people swear by them. Others swear at them. Should they only be local? Should they be statewide? Should they exist at all?
Years ago I was the member of a legislatively-mandated commission that met from August 2008 to November 2010. The actual name of the bill was HB 1579: Commission to Study Land Development Regulations and the Effects of Land Development within Upland Areas that may Affect Wetlands and Surface Waters of the State. Needless to say, we reduced the name to the “Land-use Commission”. We met generally once a month. We held work sessions, took testimony from regulators, organizations, scientists, and departments of the state. After all that, we came to a non-unanimous conclusion that some wetlands, unless protected by a buffer, would be significantly degraded by human development. Duh!
This momentous conclusion was not followed by legislative action to create a statewide wetland buffer rule. Despite all the fine people I met on the commission, despite all the fine testimony we took from everyone, despite the extensive report that was constructed, I feel like it was pretty much a waste of over two years of work.
We found no new information. We found no earth-shattering conclusions. We did not uncover a treasure-trove of little-known wetland facts. Nothing new.
We did find that wetland buffers were often applied arbitrarily, with little interest in science. We found that wetland buffers differed from adjoining towns, even though the wetland resource was the same. We found that wetland buffers are often used to restrict growth rather than concern for a natural resource. We found that wetland buffers were often viewed as unfair and too restrictive. We found that defenders of wetland buffers had science on their side but tended to put all wetlands in the same basket. All these findings, yet we never found a way to put a statewide buffer rule in place that could ever be effectively implemented and fairly executed.
We ended up coining a phrase at the commission: “Buffers should only protect the best of the best wetlands.” Ahhh! And there became the rub! How do you define the “best of the best”? How do you identify the “best of the best”? We came up with a buffer width, though that was more of a nod to convention rather than a scientific basis. Depending upon the wetland function, the buffer widths can be dramatically different. We really looked mostly at water quality.
After all this, I recently started to feel like Yogi Berra. “It’s deja vu all over again.”
There is a current House Bill 486, which attempts to resurrect the statewide wetland buffer rule for certain wetlands. Its fate is yet to be determined. Are there problems with the bill? Of course! There are always problems with bills, which often get massively modified through the process of committee and subcommittee hearings. The basic problem with the bill, however, is in the details: implementation and enforcement. Dumping it on an already stressed Wetlands Bureau and hoping for the best would be a D I S A S T E R.
I feel another commission coming on. Head aches, back aches, and a general sense of malaise.
I appreciate folks who tilt at windmills. There is a certain nobleness to those who take on the impossible. I have had my share. One was called the certification of soil scientists. Another was the certification of wetland scientists.
In all the battles, I have always used the mantra: “What is practical?” “What is doable?” “What can be implemented?” “What will have the most support?” It may not be the mantra of the starry-eyed dreamer, but it worked. One can hope that such an approach will be used with this new House Bill.
And as Yogi said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
In My View” is an opinion article that will be posted to you once a month. It is my view of wetland and other environmental issues that will or may affect your business or organization. It will sometimes give you updates on new rules or legislation that has recently passed. In other cases, I will discuss legislation that is “in the works” at our state capital. As the name would imply, it is my view of what this rule, legislation or change means to you. I am constantly meeting with clients, friends and local regulatory officials who are asking me what this rule means or what that piece of legislation does. For that reason, I am sending this out to associates of GES who might care to have this information. I will not be political, but I do reserve the right to be opinionated. If you do not wish to receive further articles, let us know by a “reply to”, and we will delete your name. If you know of someone who might want to receive future articles, just send this on to them and copy us. We will add them to the distribution list. If in the coming months there is a topic, law, rule or regulation that you would like me to discuss, let us know. If I feel that I am competent to say something about it, I will discuss it in the future.
That concludes this Months article. Each past article will be stored on our website at HYPERLINK "http://www.gesinc.biz" www.gesinc.biz or Google: Gove Environmental Services, Inc. I hope this will be of value to you.