GROTON — The Inland Wetlands Agency voted unanimously at its meeting April 12, 2006, to amend its regulations to allow the agency to hire independent experts to help evaluate complex applications and to bill applicants for the fees charged by the experts.

The vote followed a public hearing at the same meeting. No speaker at the hearing opposed the measure. The amendment takes effect May 1, 2006.

Edith Fairgrieve, a director of the Groton Open Space Association, urged the panel to make good use of its new power. GOSA long has advocated adoption of such an amendment. A proposed town-wide ordinance currently is before the Town Council that would extend similar powers to the Planning Commission, Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.

Both the IWA amendment and the proposed town-wide ordinance include modest fee increases to help offset costs of processing applications.

The amendment adopted by the IWA pertaining to expert fees is worded in essence the same as the proposed town-wide ordinance. The IWA wording:

“Complex Application Fee: If an application is deemed to be complex, the Inland Wetland Agency may charge an additional fee sufficient to cover the cost of reviewing and acting on complex applications. Such fee may include, but not be limited to, the cost of retaining experts to analyze and review reports submitted by the applicant as part of the complex application. The Agency’s designated agent shall estimate the Complex Application Fee within 21 [corrected] days of the Agency’s receipt of the application. The fee shall be paid prior to the Agency taking action on the complex application. Any portion of the complex application fee in excess of the actual costs incurred shall be refunded to the applicant after publication of the agency’s decision.”