Friday, September 14, 2007
ConsCom checks regulations on driveway maintenance
Telephone inquiries from a concerned neighbor led Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard to ask Fiske Street homeowner, Sara Dunleavy, to attend the Conservation Commission's September 6 meeting. The aim was to clarify the status of "vegetation management" activities associated with a long, well-established driveway that included a wetland crossing. The neighbor had questioned first, whether the owner were guilty of unauthorized clearing of brush and invasive plants in both a wetland and wetland buffer zone, and second, whether the state's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) had been consulted.
Willard said she had subsequently inspected the site but felt that the commission needed to make the final decision as to whether the owner would be required to file a Notice of Intent (NOI). Dunleavy, who arrived with photographs of the access lane and surrounding areas, explained that the driveway had been in use since the house was built over 30 years ago. Subsequent and recent clearing had proven necessary for safety reasons and had involved removal of brush and invasives to allow for safe and unimpeded passage for vehicles up to and including fire trucks.
Assuming that homeowners must have a right to keep their driveways passable, the commissioners consulted the weighty Wetland Protection Act regulations for a clear-cut answer, and found a reasonable facsimile. From a section on "Minor Exempt Activities" within a wetland or wetland buffer zone, the text included driveway clearance as qualifying for exempt status but left the extent of that exemption rather subjective. Making a stab at a logical inference, Commissioner Tom Schultz advised, "If you were to clear beyond what's necessary to allow safe passage, we would want to see a plan, but what you have done so far appears to be perfectly acceptable." His colleagues agreed.
Willard noted that Dunleavy had informed her that she was thinking of building a shed in the future and in that event, she would need to submit an NOI, and could include any expanded vegetation management in that filing. Chairman Peter Burn reminded them that the commission still needed to await possible comment from the NHESP, since the site lay within a designated core habitat. In the meantime, if the clearing activity remained roughly within the berm along the driveway, it would be considered exempt, and she could expect a letter to that effect.
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