GROTON — The Inland Wetlands Agency at its latest meeting endorsed wider margins of regulation for the town’s wetlands and watercourses while declining to cede certain powers to staff of the Office of Planning and Development Services.

In a separate action taken at the same Nov. 10, 2010 meeting, the IWA recommended strengthening some proposed changes to Zoning Commission regulations on stormwater management and erosion and sedimentation control. The matter had been referred to the IWA by the Zoning Commission for an opinion.

 Both actions were part of the process, currently underway, of updating town land use regulations. Changes to the IWA and zoning regulations will require separate public hearings. No date has been set for a hearing on IWA regulations. The Zoning Commission is scheduled to hold its hearing Dec. 1, 2010.  (Background)

 Regarding wetlands regulations, the IWA gave its approval to changes that would subject to official regulation any significant activity within 100 feet to 200 feet of wetlands and watercourses. It also would specifically authorize the IWA to decide that any activity, whether within the physical area of regulation or not, is subject to regulation if it is likely to affect the wetlands or watercourses.

 An activity subject to regulation — called a “regulated activity” — is defined in part as “any operation or use of a wetland or watercourse involving removal or deposition of material; or any obstruction, construction, alteration, or pollution of such wetlands or watercourses.” Widening the area of regulation does not in itself protect the wetlands or watercourse, but it does ensure scrutiny by the IWA of areas previously outside the IWA’s jurisdiction.

 The proposed rules endorsed by the IWA would apply to activity within:

–200 feet of Great Brook, Beaver Dam Brook, Hatching House Brook, Hempstead Brook and Haley Brook

–150 feet of Eccleston Brook, Bindloss Brook, Fort Hill Brook and Birch Plain Creek

–100 feet of the boundary of any other wetland or watercourse.

A 100-foot margin is generally in line with current practice, as opposed to formal procedure, but the 150-200 foot rules represent major changes. In addition, spelling out the right of the IWA to regulate activities outside the formal area of regulation clarifies a previously muddy and disputed issue.

The IWA declined to endorse a recommendation that OPDS staff be authorized to issue permits for regulated activities that would result in only “minimal impact” on wetlands and watercourses. The IWA reasoned that the proposal might subject OPDS personnel to pressures. Such pressures should be borne by the IWA, which is made up of citizen volunteers, it was decided.

Regarding proposed Zoning Commission regulation changes on stormwater management and erosion and sedimentation control, the IWA was generally supportive. However, it recommended that the new regulations should specify that:

–more elaborate erosion and sedimentation plans be required for large construction sites with high soil erodibility, steep slopes or located in a public water supply watershed. The recommendation would strengthen language that would merely permit commissioners to require such plans.

–the relevant commission (Planning or Zoning) should require developers to verify through periodic reports that erosion and sedimentation control systems have been installed and are being properly operated and maintained. The currently proposed language would only permit the commission involved to require such reports.