The public hearing on a proposed wetlands bylaw drew a steady stream of questions and voiced confusion, as well as support from a packed meeting room at the Mattpoisett Town Hall on April 23.
Chairman Bob Rogers and the members of the Conservation Commission have been at it for several months, debating amongst themselves and the residents who attended regularly scheduled commission meetings, to craft language to put before Town Meeting in May.
Rogers said in his opening statements that the purpose of the special public hearing was to “give townspeople an opportunity prior to Town Meeting to go through the bylaw … provide feedback … and help make-up their minds on how to vote at Town Meeting.”
Rogers said the draft document provided at the public hearing had been modified over the course of working with town council on April 22 and 23, and so earlier versions made available to the public were not the final draft.
That comment inspired several residents to object to holding the public hearing without sufficient time to review a final draft.
Douglas Schneider, 5 Knollwood Drive, said, “I spent four hours going over the draft we had and have four pages of questions…. Now you drop a new one on us tonight.” He continued, “I don’t think that’s fair…. And last week, you voted to go to the selectmen for Town Meeting …”
Rogers responded, saying not very much had changed with the exception of some edits by town council that he described as making the document clearer with procedural and administrative text.
“I’m not going to apologize for where we’re at tonight,” Rogers said, asserting that the only changes between the document the public had prior to the hearing and the one supplied at the hearing were minor in scope.
But some took exception to that description.
Dave Andrews, 49 Water Street, said the edits made by town council changed the context of the language previously written. Specifically, he pointed to the 100-foot buffer zone where text seemed to indicate that all lands adjacent to that were now jurisdictional.
“That would have a tremendous impact on property owners,” said Andrews. “[The Conservation Commission] would have infinite power.”
That point was bantered around with several others agreeing that they read the updated language the same way. Rogers, however, pointed out the superseding text clarified the scope of jurisdictional areas.
“We have to use our judgment on the buffer zone,” said Rogers. “To me, it’s not a land grab; it’s giving the Town control over wetlands – not the State.”
And that was Rogers’ major point for asking the town to consider a local wetlands bylaw.
“Town-level government is more transparent and easier to deal with than state government.” Rogers explained that, currently, residents appealing a ConCom decision can go directly to the DEP, with about 75 percent of the DEP decisions over-turning local decisions, basically taking local control out of the hands of local boards.
The bylaw would allow the Town to have appeals heard in Superior Court. Rogers explained, saying, “Town council would prefer to defend a bylaw in Superior Court versus at the state level.”
Yet some of the citizens in attendance felt that path to resolution would end up costing property owners too much money.
Joe Anzaldi, 3 Seabreeze Lane, spoke up saying, “Superior Court is a road you don’t want to go down.”
In defense of going through court, Rogers said, “We feel a strong obligation not to put people through more than they have to, but that’s an important part of the bylaw.”
Paul Osenkowski, 8 Oaklawn Street, said, “I want to see smaller government…. I think people who live here can control things better…. We have an obligation to protect our town … [and] I want Mattapoisett protected by Mattapoisett residents.” He ended by saying he was in favor of a wetlands bylaw.
When asked how many applications are appealed annually, Rogers ballparked the percentage around 5 percent. Of those, he said the majority were neighbor against neighbor, not applicant against the Town.
Commission member Peter Newton said, during the five years he has served on the commission, nearly all appeals were from abutters.
In support of the bylaws Newton said, “We are your neighbors – not those guys at the DEP. Who knows where they live.”
Commission member Marylou Kelliher said, “This is the least restrictive bylaw you are going to see…. It mirrors the Wetlands Protection Act.”
And the debate is not over yet. Residents still have time to review the latest draft of the bylaw and submit their questions and opinions on the proposed document in advance of Town Meeting.
Visit www.mattpoisett.net to send email directly to the Conservation Commission office. You may also leave your comments at the Conservation Commission office or with the town administrator.
By Marilou Newell