Proposed 50-foot wetland buffer prompts debate
Planners say Conservation Commission's petitioned article 'needs work'
March 03, 2010
The Conservation Commission has put forth petitioned warrant Article 10, asking that the existing Article 15, that establishes the wetlands district ordinance, be replaced with regulations that include a 50-feet wetland buffer – standards not everyone can agree on.
This protective buffer setback would be adjacent to wetlands under certain conditions, and would allow for certain uses and activities by special exception applications. This proposed ordinance would also create standards for mitigation, erosion and sedimentation plans.
Although members of the Conservation Commission feel that this proposed ordinance replacement would help save valuable water resources that are being harmed by rising phosphorus levels, the Planning Board did not recommend the adoption of this amendment.
Conservation Committee member Lee Duncan said this proposal to be necessary, because it would help keep outside contaminants from leaking into Winnipesaukee through streams and other contributory water sources as a result of nearby human activity.
"It has gotten to the point where phosphorus levels are very high. This could be serious, and change the phosphorus level," said Duncan. "By putting in a buffer (as a result of the suggested wetland ordinance) this allows us to filter out contaminants."
Duncan said the phosphorus levels in Gilford were documented to be about 4.9 in 1998, and that as of last year, the levels are encroaching on 7.0. Although the state phosphorus level is 8.0, Duncan said the state would start taking action after 7.2, and that the Department of Environmental Services will soon become involved if levels continue to increase.
"There is an educational issue," said Duncan. "There needs to be an understanding from the general public, since it is not widely known how buffers work."
Conservation Commission member Diane Hanley said this issue has been a point of discussion for several years, but she finds these needs have not yet been addressed by the Planning Board.
"We got the information in January, yet the director does not support this," said Hanley. "I feel this is a necessary step to take and a it is good for economical habitat. People come out here to be outside."
Hanley added that protecting the water now with the proposed 50-foot wetland buffer setback would soften the impact that the DES could have if they decided to become involved with the issue.
Duncan said that most "quality areas" in Gilford are already developed, but that new, more miniscule properties on the verge of being developed could still potentially pollute the surrounding water. He added that the terrain in Gilford poses a problem as well, since the lakes, mountains, and hills "have a tendency" to contaminant the water quickly, if no filtering system is put into place.
"Those areas we asked them not to develop in are much better off in their natural state," said Hanley. "When you get close (to wetlands) it makes a difference in how much salt gets in the water. Buffers are common around the state. People developing areas have most likely already dealt with these regulations."
Hanley said the proposed amendment also grants the Conservation Commission ability to give variances, and that this is built into the ordinance to work as a "safety net."
Duncan used a residential driveway as an example and said the commission would still allow someone to put in a driveway, buyujut they would first check for proper drainage and "make sure the wetlands are functioning correctly."
"There is a long-term impact from an environmental and economic standpoint. If we don't take care (of the water), development won't be necessary because people won't want to come down here anymore," said Duncan.
Although phosphorus levels on Winnipesaukee have become a growing concern throughout the Lakes Region, the Gilford Planning Board hesitated to support this particular wetlands district ordinance, which proposes to remove the existing district wetlands regulations and replace them with new ones.
Town Planner John Ayer said Planning Board members shared some concerns. The document submitted by the Conservation Commission was rather sizeable, he said, and could not be fully digested in the course of one meeting.
"Usually, we have had much smaller ordinances that need three or more meetings to discuss, and then vote on. This proposal is a lot more significant," said Ayer.
Ayer said the board was not "comfortable" approving the proposal, and added that it could have a potentially heavy impact on property owners.
"It is hard to know what the impacts could be. There was a lot of material and not enough time to review it. The board would like to look at it more closely," said Ayer. "There was concern expressed with lots of buildable areas becoming unbuildable."
Ayer said the buffer alone appears to be the biggest issue and draws the most attention. He added that the proposed ordinance also does not allow for "relief" or "grandfathering," and that these regulations would "take" without offering compensation for setbacks.
"The board is not against the general purpose, but they think this needs more work," said Ayer.