The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 16, 2004


ConsCom votes for common sense in wetlands boardwalk decision

For the second time in a month the Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) wrestled with a decision that involved competing imperatives. The last item on their July agenda was a Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) filed by Molly and Bryan Sorrows that involved specifications for a 150-200-foot-long boardwalk spanning a Bordering Vegetated Wetland.

Like the June 10 RDA filed by the Carlisle Pedestrian and Bike Safety Committee, the applicants were in effect asking to be allowed to proceed with a project involving a wetland without recourse to the more technically demanding and expensive Notice of Intent (NOI) procedures. Also, as with that case, the commission had to decide whether the nature of the project and the plan of attack were such as to sufficiently minimize damage to the resource area, and/or whether other "common sense" environmental considerations might balance whatever wetland disturbance was involved. In the end the Sorrowses received a go-ahead, but only after renewed soul searching on ConsCom's part.

In presenting their project specifications, the Sorrowses showed that the subject wetland ran through their property and separated the upland area where their home is located from a second upland section that abuts Great Brook Farm. The previous owner had used the least sodden portion of the wetland to cross over and tend his flock of chickens on the other side. It was the couple's contention that the boardwalk would serve to protect the wetland from such intrusion, while providing an ideal perch from which their own and neighbors' children, or even other groups, could safely study and appreciate the swampland with its teeming aquatic wildlife.

Precedent a concern

While Commissioner Peter Burn was appreciative of the applicants' objectives, he nevertheless expressed "real concern" about the precedent that could be set if the commission okayed the obvious disruption to the wetland that would be caused by putting in footings for the boardwalk without the expert monitoring required in an NOI. Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard offered the information that Wetland Protection Act regulations give specific rules for boardwalk construction, such as the requirement that the walkway surface be at least six inches above the surface of the resource area. The Sorrowses assured the commission that their plans called for a seven-and-a-half-inch height and would conform to other listed requirements.

Better for the wetland?

Indicating his support for the plans as presented Commissioner Roy Watson said, "What they are proposing is better for the wetland than tramping over it," a view seconded by Commissioner John Lee who added, "I have no problem with it — it's a minor intrusion." Chair Tricia Smith admitted that she was still on the horns of the control-vs-common sense dilemma and sought Commissioner Tom Brownrigg's "often challenging" insights into the question. Brownrigg declared he always believed in encouraging children to develop an interest in nature, adding with a hint of a grin, "Of course, as a birdwatcher, I really appreciate the Trails Committee's many boardwalks and so am inclined to support this project."

Commissioner Diane Troppoli framed the quandary by observing, "We want to encourage their [ the Sorrowses'] reasons for wanting to do this, but we're left with the question, 'What about the next person that comes along, maybe with a less satisfying approach?'"

Apparently following an earlier suggestion that the commission was going to have to decide each RDA case on its individual merits, Smith called for a vote. Unlike the split decision that gave the Pedestrian/Bike committee its okay last month, this time around the vote was unanimous to grant the present applicants the Negative Determination of Applicability they sought. (Yes, in bureaucratic language "negative" determination means the applicants get what they want.)

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito