MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The town laws regarding wetlands are about to be refreshed.
It’s been some 20 years since the town of Carmel has updated Chapter 89 of the town code, known as Freshwater Wetlands, and officials say its overdue for a makeover because some of the content is outdated and, in some cases, over-reaching.
The Town Board held a public hearing on the proposed rewrite at its Nov. 28, which was attended by four members of the Environmental Conservation Board (ECB), a group that has a vested interested in the code because it directly addresses the regulations that mediate the cases they determine.
“The original intent of rewriting the code was that the original code overextended the reach of what a wetlands code should be and included water bodies and streams that are covered under different state laws,” said town engineer Richard Franzetti, who is a former ECB chairman. “A lot of the local towns and villages in this area all have virtually the same language as the original code that we have now—all written, we believe, by the same consultant at that time, and everyone adopted it.”
Franzetti said the old code contained language that no longer applies because there are different classifications.
“The town’s version went above and beyond and [the new version] will update the language and make it more realistic,” he said.
Nick Fannin vice chair of the ECB, said his board was grateful for the code revisions, but while admitting he was in dire need of a rewrite, he wanted to make sure it addresses important details at the local level.
“We have had to deal with the code day in and day out. It’s legacy. It’s an old code. It hasn’t been touched in a long time,” Fannin said. “There are certainly parts in there that don’t sense for us to follow anymore.”
Fannin, along with ECB chair Robert Lagga, said that while streams are not by definition a wetland, they should still remain within the purview of the board, not just the state and city, and wanted to make sure the code’s language makes that clear.
“All our water sources in the town and the county are connected. I want to stress that no matter whose jurisdiction it’s in, whether it’s a swamp, an intermittent stream, it all comes through our taps eventually, Fannin noted.
Lagga said he wanted to make sure it was the intent of the board to include streams because he interrupted the revision’s language that way.
“If we are building something near a stream and something bad happens, it has the opportunity to go down the stream and into a body of water,” he said. “We are trying to protect our drinking water, our recreational water—people’s wells. I think streams should be left in here.”
What the new code aims to do, said Franzetti and other town officials, is not duplicate what the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) already do. But Lagga and Fannin noted that having some system of doublecheck is also important.
“We (the ECB) see a lot of permit applications that do have to go before other agencies,” Fannin said. “Many times, we have to provide a doublecheck. On close to 95 percent of all [ECB] applications that required [a permit from another agency], we’ve required some changes,” Fannin pointed out. “For instance, spill kits. That might not sound like a big deal, but it can be if one of these big machines on a big lot blows a gasket or has a major leak on a hydraulic line and go right into our water supply. That could be really bad. We require spill kits on site. These things often get overlooked by these higher-level agencies because they are not thinking about what is happening at the local level. They don’t know the streams here, they don’t know the builders. Someone local has to have your back.”
Lagga said if an applicant has to go through the DEC, DEP or Army Corps of Engineers to get a permit, the ECB doesn’t load them up with a lot of extra paperwork on top of it all.
“If they have already applied to DEC, DEP, we don’t make them do the application over, we just take the information and make sure it is done and make sure that they’re not missing a spill kit or something silly, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Then we issue the permit, Lagga said.
Councilman Jonathan Schneider said he didn’t want the new code to usurp any of the ECB’s power.
“We want to bring it up to date, but we don’t want to do anything to take away your authority to protect the water our residents depend on,” he said during the public hearing.
Supervisor Ken Schmitt agreed.
“We want to have the ECB to continue to have that oversight,” he said. “If they go before you, you should have the authority to let them know they are required to have X, Y or Z. You still need to have the teeth in the code to be able to do that.”
Fannin said local boards such as the ECB can help applicants through what can be a complex process.
“There are many times when we have a homeowner come to our board and they look like a deer in the headlights and we literally walk them through the process and we show them what to do,” he said. “We are not here to put up a roadblock. We are here to help them.”
Lagga said he would also like the new version of the code to require a five-member ECB instead of a seven-member board, which would make it easier to make quorums.
Schmitt said the Town Board would take into consideration all the input it received during the public hearing, which he said would be kept open, so more comments can be made via email. He said a final draft of the code probably wouldn’t be ready until early 2019.