Friday, May 1, 1998

Beware–wetland indicators are not always obvious

by Seba Gaines

Do you have a wetland on your property? If you look out the window, see no land under water, and note that an area that was wet in the spring has since dried up, you may understandably conclude that the answer is "no." But hold on. Does that area support skunk cabbage or cattails? What sort of trees grow there? If you are planning some landscaping, tree cutting, septic system repair or other construction that might impact that soggy spot, you would do well to consult the conservation commission.

That was the lesson learned ex-post-facto by long-time Carlisle resident Welma Kornfeld after she was faced with a septic system repair on her Heald Road property. Informed by her engineer that part of the septic system would be located within the 100-foot buffer zone of a wetland that she was unaware existed, Kornfeld submitted a Notice of Intent (NOI) to the commission.

While walking the property to assess the impact of the proposed septic system on the wetland, conservation administrator Katrina Proctor noticed that the slope running toward that soggy area, and even a portion of the wetland itself, had been clear-cut and trees and brush removed. Told that the work was strictly illegal, Kornfeld was taken aback, according to Proctor, and insisted that the area was dry most of the year and should not be considered a wetland. The administrator pointed to the cattails and skunk cabbage that were thriving in the damp soil, giving clear indication that the land was indeed a wetland.

Wetlands defined

At ConsCom's April 23 meeting Kornfeld's son appeared, pleading his mother's innocence in the matter. Also, a supportive neighbor, William McEvoy, asked commission members to give a definition of a wetland for the benefit of those who might be confused. The Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions' broad definition states that swamps, marshes, bogs and all kinds of vegetative wet areas "where the ground is wet enough, long enough, each year so that they develop certain common characteristics are considered to be wetlands." Commissioner Christine Bopardikar indicated that the presence of aquatic plants like skunk cabbage, cattails and red maples, plus the distinctive wetland soils, are prime factors in technical delineation.

Proctor reassured Kornfeld that the commission's prime concern, now that the damage had already occurred was not to punish, but rather to determine the owner's intentions for the future. Kornfeld indicted that the family would henceforth follow the commission's instructions.

The NOI for the septic system was approved forthwith. However, the board issued a set of special conditions pertaining to the area that had been clear-cut. There must be no further tree cutting or stump removal, and the wetland must be allowed to re-vegetate and return to nature.

Acton Street construction

The possible consequences of ignoring construction conditions laid down by the commission were seen as Acton Street property owner David Ziehler answered an enforcement order. He appeared before the board to explain why a siltation fence had not been installed as specified, both in his order of conditions and in two other communications from Proctor. The order also stated that he had failed to reply to a third letter from Proctor, alleging that water problems suffered by an abutter to the Acton Street property were probably caused by his ongoing construction activities. The communication threatened a $25-per-day fine, if compliance were not immediate.

Ziehler said his failure to reply to the commission's third letter had occurred because he had moved from his Carlisle address to Concord, and delivery had been delayed. He conceded that the water blockage affecting his neighbor might well be caused by damage to a pipe that runs under the driveway constructed as part of lot development. Environmental engineers from Stamski and McNary had advised that either an elevated water table or blockage of the pipe could be the origin of the problem. Ziehler assured the board that the 240-foot pipe would be checked the next day, and if it proved to be the culprit, would be repaired.

Commissioner Tricia Smith asked that Ziehler submit a written copy of his engineers' recommendations and commissioner Hinton recommended that hay bales be placed so as to prevent new problems from arising, if the pipe were flushed out. The board decided to hold off on any fine pending the outcome of Ziehler's efforts to restore integrity to the entire system.

Concord Street addition

Linda Taylor, who owns the antique "pink home" on Concord Street, and her architect Chip Dewing presented plans for renovation of that property. Their proposal, which included relocation of the existing garage, removal of a shed and construction of an addition, was accepted in principal, pending receipt of a Department of Environmental Protection file number. Final approval will come at a continuance on May 14.