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DES kicks off wetlands rule rewrite meetings in Littleton


April 02, 2014
LITTLETON— The Department of Environmental Services has begun a major project to improve the gamut of wetlands rules. Officials provided an overview of their goals and received a range of comments during a listening session at the Senior Center on Thursday. The meeting was the first such input session for the big DES project.

The DES Wetlands Bureau administers regulations designed to protect wetlands and shorelines from adverse development and erosion. Permits are required for many different activities that could impact wetlands. The state also administers a mitigation process when changes to wetlands may be unavoidable.

The last major review of the state's wetland rules occurred in 1991. The listening sessions are part of a three-phase process DES is planning. Development of new draft rules, based on the listening sessions, will likely take about 10 months. The end of 2015 is the goal to finalize the new wetlands rules.

State Representative Rebecca Brown, Littleton Planning Board member Val Poulsen, and Cheryl Jensen from the Bethlehem Conservation Commission, were some of the local officials who attended the meeting. Chuck Henderson represented the office of U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Carolyn Russell, DES Senior Environmental and Land Use Planner, said the Wetlands Bureau is taking a "wide open look" at the rules under its jurisdiction. Assistant Wetland Bureau Administrator Mary Ann Tilton added that the state wants to improve the wetlands permitting process overall. The goals include enhancing predictability, increasing consistency of rule implementation, and ensuring decisions are based on the best science available.

One major improvement DES hopes to achieve, Tilton added, was spending more time on projects when expected wetlands impacts are high. Conversely, the state hopes to spend fewer resources dealing with permit applications for situations where wetland impacts are minimal.

Tilton and Russell received several comments during the 60-minute discussion in Littleton. One commenter said the permit applications could be easier to use. Permit forms are sometimes hard to find online, DES was informed.

Improved communication with local government was another area discussed last week. Local river advisory committees should receive all submitted wetlands applications electronically, it was suggested. Additionally, Tilton and Russell heard that the end result of DES decisions on wetland rules and permits should go to planning boards.

Brown wondered how the bureau's rule review connected to the state's climate action plan. Russell said that was an item under consideration. Overall, DES is conducting a major research project on dozens of topics as part of the rule revision, Russell added.

The mitigation process was another area of interest to hearing attendees. Mitigation occurs when a development with approved wetlands impacts provides funding for wetland improvement in another area. "Mitigation is a way of making the environment whole," Russell said.

DES hopes to ensure no net loss of wetlands through the mitigation process. Like all other aspects of the state's wetland rules, changes regarding mitigation are on the table.

A link on the bureau's website provides further information on the rule update process. The available information includes a 12-page discussion guide. Go to: http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wetlands/process-improvement.htm. Regular updates to this website are planned, and written public comments are welcome as the process continues.

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