Research wetlands on the town website and you will read, “It is the goal of the town of Yorktown to ensure that there is no overall net loss of the town’s remaining wetland resources, including wetland buffer areas.” Further, it states “it is the long-term goal of the town to increase the quantity and quality of the town’s wetlands resources in terms of type, functions, geographic location and setting and size.”
These are very laudable goals, yet they are now under attack by our very own town board. Under current review is an attempt to repeal and replace Chapter 178 of the town code, “Freshwater Wetlands.” If successful, this piece of legislation will dramatically weaken our present laws by re-defining what constitutes a wetland. The current size threshold for deciding when a specific area is a wetland in Yorktown is 1,000 square feet. Under the proposed new ordinance, this number would be raised to 4,356 square feet, without regard for what critical wetland functions the area serves, such as stormwater retention, filtration and purification of drinking water, and habitat for plants and wildlife. Yet it is entirely possible that a 1,500-square foot wetland may serve a much more vital function than one with an area of 5,000 square feet.
Why should we care? This is why: Wetlands serve as natural flood control agents. Our streams alone cannot handle the overflow associated with heavy rains. Our wetlands act as basins, storing water and slowing its flow downstream, reducing runoff onto roads and low-lying areas. As more wetlands are drained and developed, the greater likelihood of increased flooding. Eventually, the toll on our homes and infrastructure will prove costly. Maintenance and repair of roads and bridges will jump. Taxes will be raised to construct new artificial stormwater management systems.
Plainly said, the repeal and replacement currently proposed by our town board is good for developers but bad for the rest of us. Few homeowners are paying attention, but this is in the works!
The gradual loss of wetlands is a major problem throughout Yorktown. And yet, despite this reality, plans are presently in motion to chip away at the benefits wetlands have provided us. We need to be wary of any new legislation that attempts to weaken these laws under the guise of streamlining procedures.