Falmouth council: Time to implement wetland protections

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FALMOUTH — Eight years after receiving a report about how to best protect wetlands, especially vulnerable vernal pools, the Town Council is finally ready to implement some of the recommendations.

Councilors Monday said it was a shame that the report, which was authored by the Long Range Planning Committee in 2009, had been left on the table all this time.

Councilors Andrea Ferrante, Ned Kitchel and Aaron Svedlow were all absent from the July 24 meeting.

The report makes eight recommendations for ordinance changes designed to “improve protection of the most valuable and fragile vernal pools and wetlands” in town, according to the document.

Last year the council asked the Conservation Commission to review the 2009 report and come back with recommendations for how to proceed.

In speaking with the council Monday, Nancy Lightbody, chairwoman of the commission, said it’s clear the town’s ordinances are “still deficient” in terms of providing “clear protection to sensitive natural resources.”

She also agreed with the findings of the 2009 report that the current rules do not “adequately protect natural resources that are vital to maintain water quality, as well as healthy and diverse wildlife and wildlife habitat.”

Lightbody told councilors that the Conservation Commission is recommending the town go further than the 2009 report and regulate all vernal pools, whether they’ve been designated as significant or not.

In addition, Lightbody urged the council to expand the buffer between any vernal pools and development to 100 feet instead of 50, which would more closely align Falmouth’s ordinances with state law.

She also told the council that the commission stands behind the goal of the 2009 report, which was to “maximize wetlands protection, while minimizing any impact on property owners.”

In discussing the 2009 document and the Conservation Commission’s recommendations, Councilor Karen Farber said, “There’s a lot here that’s incredibly valuable and important,” which is why she wants to move forward toward implementation.

She then asked if there was “any low-hanging fruit (we can tackle now) that gives us good bang for the buck?”

Amanda Stearns, the community development coordinator, said it might be possible to “dissect the report into phases,” but also cautioned that “the body of amendments are dependent on other sections” of the document.

The question is “how to advance the regulations in a meaningful way to protect these resources,” she said.

Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill agreed with Farber, who said, “The 2009 report made significant strides forward and I think many of the recommendations are still important. Many of these points are still salient and valid and I would like to discuss them further.”

Councilor Andy Jones said, “If we lose our vernal pools now, we won’t get them back.”

And Councilor Claudia King said it “certainly makes sense to streamline our ordinances and regulations,” in terms of wetland protections.”

After further discussion, the councilors present Monday agreed to put the wetlands protection issue on the work plan for the Community Development Committee, which consists of three councilors.

King and Farber also said it would be important to both educate the public and be clear about what’s being proposed in order to avoid the emotional reaction that Farber, at least, believes may have doomed the report eight years ago.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

The Falmouth Town Council is hoping to finally move forward with a variety of wetland protection rules, especially for vernal pools like this one.