Friday, November 18, 2005
Enforcement Orders top Conservation Commission agenda
The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) agenda for their November 10 meeting provides an object lesson for anyone who has recently done, or is planning to do, construction work in the vicinity of a wetland. A full 50% of the items considered that evening concerned persons who at some point over the past few months merited an Enforcement Order for violation of state and/or local environmental laws.
ConsCom oversees work near wetlands
Homeowners should be aware that there need not be visible water in a portion of a lot for a wetland to exist under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act. A final determination is made not just from obvious dampness but also from the nature of the soils and vegetation in or near the construction site. Therefore, if a homeowner has the least doubt about the classification of any area within 100 feet of planned construction, he or she should give the ConsCom office a call to determine whether the work falls within their jurisdiction. Above all, it is unwise to listen to a seemingly well-informed or well-intentioned friend who advises, "Just go ahead and do it. No one will know the difference and if they do, just plead ignorance." One last warning; if you find you are required to file an application, and it is approved with a standard or special Order of Conditions, read the order carefully, follow the instructions to the letter, and make sure your contractor also reads and observes them.
Returning to last week's ConsCom agenda, the four landowners currently enmeshed in the regulatory net illustrate the wisdom of "playing it safe" and checking before you start. Consider the difficulties encountered by Stearns Street homeowner Jean Sifantus, who had received an approval for construction of an addition to his house, a septic system upgrade and landscaping. He made the mistake of filing away the Order of Conditions and not monitoring his contractor who, he assumed, was aware of the requirements. Unfortunately, the work began without the Conservation Administrator being informed that the project was about to get underway, without the haybale barrier being checked and without a DEP sign in place. To make matters worse, the silt fence had been removed without issuance of a Certificate of Compliance. Following receipt of an Enforcement Order, a reluctant contractor had replaced the silt fence, other conditions were fulfilled and the owner's representative Jill Turnbull attended the meeting to present a landscape plan.
There was considerable discussion of the case, with some members saying that a fine should be levied automatically for any substantive violation and that ignorance of the law was no excuse. Others pointed out that the guilty party had taken remedial action as soon as he was informed of his errors, and that the contractor was more at fault than the homeowner. Since all agreed that their prime interest was to protect the wetland, and it was now safe, no further penalty was assessed.
A second case also involved failure to follow an Order of Conditions at a construction site off Cross Street owned by developer H. LaRue Renfroe. In that situation, contractor Robert Ratta had refused to stop work when informed by Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard that clear-cutting had extended beyond the limits specified in the Order of Conditions and a "stop work" order had been issued to the owner. Failure to comply with a direct order had constituted a second violation and had resulted in an $850 fine. Both Renfroe and his agent Stephen Quinn subsequently apologized for the infraction and for the contractor's behavior. At the November 10 meeting, Quinn presented a remedial landscaping plan that called for planting of replacement trees in the damaged area.
Berry Corner Lane
A third enforcement order dated back to October of 2004, when a serious violation of the Wetland Protection Act was discovered on property at the end of Berry Corner Lane, owned by Michael and Laura Baliestiero. Clearing, tree cutting, grading and house construction had been found to be well underway within 100 feet of a large wetland, and a "stop work" Enforcement Order was issued. Baliestiero then submitted an ex post facto Notice of Intent (NOI) describing the work already in progress, but the commission required major changes to the plan as submitted. The final NOI included removal of unpermitted fill, a stepped stone wall and a specific landscaping plan for the area between the house and the wetland. However, the matter of a penalty for the major violation was left for determination once the project was completed to specification. Baliestiero's appearance at the Novemeber 10 meeting was for approval of the remedial landscaping plan, which was granted. The question of the nature and extent of further penalty action is still open pending completion of the project.
Issuance of a new Enforcement Order was authorized for delivery to Mark Fiedell of Calderwood Drive off Rutland Road. The landowner had already been informed of the problem. Willard reported that a silt fence barrier had been removed without authorization. To make matters worse, loam had been spread and seeded in proximity to the wetland with heavy rains being predicted in the immediate future. The owner had immediately replaced the silt barrier, but in an attempt to better the situation had dug an illegal ditch to remove water from the driveway. The next installment of that saga will be heard at the December 2 meeting.
© 2005 The