October 3, 2008
Contact: Karl Wagener
SPECIAL CEQ REPORT ON STATE’S INLAND WETLANDS APPLAUDS SUCCESSES, BUT SAYS SOME TOWNS SHOULD DO MORE
HARTFORD – Connecticut has done a good job curtailing destruction of inland wetlands, but the success is not uniform throughout the state, according to a special report of the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released on Friday.
Most decisions regarding wetlands are made at the municipal level, and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) offers training to members and staff of local wetlands agencies. The Council determined through statistical analysis that towns and cities that participated in the state’s training programs were more protective of wetlands than those that did not.
The main points of the report, entitled Swamped, include:
As many as 30 towns and cities have not complied with the state law that requires every local wetlands agency to have at least one member or staff person complete the DEP’s wetlands training programs. These untrained towns, on average, permit more wetlands destruction with each permit they issue when compared to the trained towns. The CEQ is recommending that DEP offer more on-line and video training for the convenience of the towns, and keep closer tabs on the untrained towns. The CEQ is also recommending that towns be required by law to disclose their compliance or noncompliance with the training requirement at the beginning of every public hearing and that the DEP issue special commendation to those towns that have the majority of members complete the training.
More than 20 towns fail to submit mandatory reports about their wetlands decisions to the DEP in any one year, and some never submit such reports. As a result, the DEP does not know what is going on in those towns. The CEQ recommends creation of on-line reporting and other steps to make it more convenient for small towns (which are the most frequent non-reporters) to submit the required reports.
Nine cities and towns have wetlands agencies that are also their zoning commissions. On average, those municipalities permit more wetlands destruction per permit than the 161 that have separate wetlands agencies. The CEQ is recommending separation of wetlands agencies from zoning commissions.
The DEP has a staff of three to oversee and support municipal wetlands regulation. The CEQ says the DEP needs at least two more people to provide more oversight and support, especially when it comes to towns that are not complying with requirements. The Council also says the DEP is not able to respond to violations of the wetlands law when the town fails to act, though the law gives the DEP that responsibility.
Regarding the DEP’s oversight and support of the towns, the CEQ’s Chairman, Thomas Harrison of Avon, said, “Imagine a team with 1500 players and only three coaches. That’s the position of the DEP: three staff persons to support and train the 1500 members of local wetlands agencies. Their success is amazing, but we can’t allow a minority of towns to ignore the law and permit excessive wetlands destruction.”
Harrison also said that the Council is concerned about the DEP’s ability to handle enforcement cases. “The CEQ started its review of the wetlands program two years ago because the DEP was taking many months to investigate a simple complaint of illegal filling, and clearly the problem was staffing levels. They did not have anyone to visit the site of the alleged violation. That still needs to be addressed, but our review shows conclusively that the biggest conservation bang for the buck comes from training and support of local commissions.”
Swamped is available online at www.ct.gov/ceq/Swamped
The Council is a state agency, independent of the Department of Environmental Protection, that is charged by statute to report annually to the governor on the status of Connecticut’s environment. The Council also publishes special reports. This report on inland wetlands was begun in 2006, prompted by a series of citizen complaints that highlighted some deficiencies in the implementation of the 1972 Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act.