Friday, June 17, 2005
Loosestrife causes strife at June 9 ConsCom meeting
The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) found itself caught in a crossfire at its June 9 meeting. Present were one resident who had been summoned to explain a clear violation of the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act, and a second resident/developer who felt the commission had played favorites in allowing the culprit to get away with flouting the law.
ConsCom: more than yard maintenance
Groundwork for the confrontation had been laid several days earlier when Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard realized that what she had, at first, taken to be "routine yard maintenance" had blossomed into a full scale violation of both state and local laws. Specifically, land along an intermittent stream on the Chaffin property, which lies between East Street and Bedford Road, was not just being tidied up for spring, but was the object of serious soil disturbance and removal of vegetation. The administrator immediately informed ConsCom members, called landowner David Chaffin and visited the site. Seeing the extent of the damage to what was clearly an area within the commission's jurisdiction, she ordered all work stopped and asked Chaffin to attend the next week's meeting to explain what was going on.
ConsCom accused of
"dereliction of duty"
Little did Willard realize that other observers were also aware of the clear-cut violation, and the following Monday she was the recipient of irate phone calls concerning the commission's "dereliction of duty." Later there was a visit from one of the callers, who threatened to report what he viewed as "flagrant favoritism" to the Attorney General's office.
Owner: doing the environment
The stage was set for fireworks on Thursday evening. Following the dispatch of several routine hearings, Chaffin was called to the table. He stated he had had no inkling of the fact the law required him to file a description of work in his own back yard. In fact, he felt he was doing the environment a favor by clearing out an all-too-healthy stand of loosestrife which was threatening to overrun his entire yard. Further, since the ubiquitous invasive is notoriously difficult to eradicate, it was necessary to dig out the whole network of roots in order to replace them with indigenous species.
Chair Roy Watson expressed surprise that a four-or-five-year resident of the town should be unaware that wetlands were protected and that the law required property owners to inform the commission of the intent to work in or near the resource area. Commissioner Tricia Smith concurred, saying he should have come before them with at least a Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) to see if the board did have jurisdiction, and that if he personally was unfamiliar with the law, his landscape designer Connie Sawyer should have informed him. Chaffin responded that she should not be blamed and that he would assume full responsibility.
Commissioners Tom Brownrigg and Tricia Smith explained to Chaffin that the commission could not do its job unless they knew the actual location of the wetland boundaries (data that could be supplied only by a wetland expert). Smith added that, as things stood, the soils had been totally destabilized by the uncontrolled activity, and the situation needed to be remedied. To all of which the still-unruffled Chaffin replied, "I envisioned this as just pulling weeds; I didn't think any jurisdiction was involved."
Unimpressed, Commissioner Tom Schultz advised Chaffin to return with the information the commission needed, in other words, an official plan or a full- fledged Notice of Intent. Smith reiterated that the most important thing at present was to get the area stabilized, so as to avoid siltation downstream, and Sawyer proposed immediate sowing of grasses, encouragement of iris uncovered beneath the loosestrife, and perhaps a planting of cattails. While agreeing that the board wanted to see the problem taken care of, Commissioner John Lee informed all present of the unpleasant public reaction directed at the board over their apparent lack of action. "Some people think we have been lax in this case, whereas we're sometimes overbearing in others," he explained. Whereupon Watson recognized Bill Luther from the audience.
Citizen: "It's a dredging"
Talking directly to Chaffin, Luther said he had no problem with loosestrife removal but was disturbed that the stream itself had been cleared of vegetation, including species that were not invasive, and that the work threatened to bleed out soil and deposit it downstream. "This is more than an alteration; in fact, it's a dredging," he said. Next, he aimed his displeasure to include the commission, declaring that, "Others appearing here have had to jump through the hoops and spend money to prepare and present applications." He concluded with the admonition, "I just want to see fair and equal enforcement."
Attempting to calm one and all, Watson said he and his colleagues "struggle to be fair," that in a small town understanding between boards and the citizenry is critical. "Do we have enforcement tools? Yes. But we hold back, because we want to be helpful where that is legally possible and encourage dialogue and understanding."
That said, the commission turned to a discussion of what could be done to stabilize the site as fast as possible. Noting that at this point the work had to be done under an enforcement order, it was quickly agreed that the best approach was to broadcast carex (a grass) and annual rye or summer oats, which would winterkill, thus allowing the landscapers to "plant through it." To a question from Smith about whether the long-range plan will be to naturalize the site or do something formal, Sawyer indicated the former. Chaffin agreed to present an ex post facto application at the June 23 meeting.
© 2005 The