Conservation Office Fears Abutter Fallout

Common, average, ordinary, routine, standard, cut-and-dried – all synonyms for “normal,” which was what Mattapoisett Conservation Commission Chairman Mike King pondered as he considered allowing the 30 Holly Woods project to add another access road post-approval, an access road not noted on the plan of record.

William Frederickson of 30 Holly Woods Road returned to the commission on August 13 asking if he could construct an access road wide enough for forestry equipment to enter a section of forest slated for timbering to convert into an agricultural field for cow farming.

King immediately voiced his opinion that Frederickson would be exempt from the Wetlands Protection Act with an updated forestry plan in hand. Conservation Agent Elizabeth Leidhold, however, wanted to discuss another angle relative to Frederickson’s forestry cutting plan and missing details before moving forward, and waited as King led the discussion.

According to King, the addition of another access road – “cart path”, “cow path”, or “skid path”, said King – would be exempt from the Wetlands Protection Act, as long as the change was minor enough to not require a new plan submission. If deemed a significant change, an additional filing would be required, initiating a new public hearing notice.

As King pointed out, agricultural maintenance or improvements may be exempt from the Wetlands Protection Act, as long as the alteration would be considered “normal” agricultural practice by a “reasonable” person.

“Would it be considered normal?” asked King.

Leidhold listened and continued to wait for a chance to give her recommendation to the commission as King continued. Similarly, Conservation Secretary Teresa Austin kept to herself as she wondered what she would tell abutters.

King maintained that the new access road was within the scope of the original Notice of Intent and an amendment would suffice; however, as Leidhold pointed out, an amendment would still trigger a public hearing notice, which Frederickson said he was hoping to avoid in order to keep the project moving forward.

“I didn’t realize that an amendment would still require a formal hearing, but that makes sense, I guess,” said King. So, instead, King stated, “Based on his [Notice of Intent] filing, with the principal activity being tree cutting, he’s exempted and he’s allowed to do this and we really require no further action,” with the purpose of the original NOI being to create a farm.

“Is it considered normal?” King again asked. “As a farmer myself, in 1800, would it have been normal for a farmer to create a path to get his cows back to pasture if there was a problem?”

“Yes,” King and some commission members agreed.

King said the proposed widened path intended to provide access for equipment to cut timber “could be called a ‘skid trail’, or a ‘landing’, or both.

“But I don’t see anything that precludes him from doing it,” said King. “It’s an allowable activity because it’s considered normal.”

“It’s a normal activity under a forestry cutting plan,” specified Leidhold. “That plan doesn’t show the access road, the new and proposed access road.”

“The majority of activity approved doesn’t change, just the access point,” King said. “I kind of look at is as ‘much ado about nothing.’”

But with this new information, said Leidhold, she called the DEP to confirm if this action was allowed, to which King replied, “I think this is more of a forestry question than a DEP question. But I default back to, is it considered normal? And I think the answer to that is yes,” said King.

The commission’s secretary spoke out: “I get what you’re saying, that it’s a normal process, but if an abutter comes in and wants to see that access road [on the plan], I have nothing to show them.” Austin continued, “When Holly Woods [abutters] see that, they’re going to be at our door.”

In response, King commented, “I am just a lowly Mass licensed timber harvester,” what does he know?

“If you look at the book, it’s not shown on the plan, sir,” said Austin. “I have nothing to show them (abutters). Obviously, it’s your vote,” continued Austin. “The real thing is about what’s on that plan for anyone in this town to look at if they see a bunch of equipment coming down Holly Woods Road, that’s what we’re really talking about. … He’s asking for changes. Period.”

“He doesn’t really have to ask,” said King. Not just on the forestry side, he added, “It goes back to what’s normal.”

“When the abutters come in … I’m gonna give them your phone number,” said Austin.

Then Leidhold pointed out that Frederickson’s forestry plan still needs final state approval, and until it is approved and final, it is not exempt from the Wetlands Protection Act.

“Until it’s accepted, we don’t have a plan that shows access. … Abutters will come in,” said Leidhold.

King took another angle, saying perhaps Frederickson should wait until his forestry plan is accepted, although Frederickson doubted he could get the forestry plan approved so quickly, saying one key person from the pertinent office was on vacation.

King ultimately suggested that Frederickson submit an updated copy of the cutting plan and attach it to the original plan on record and wait for final approval.

“I’m getting the sense from staff and [commission] members that everyone would feel better once that cutting plan is accepted,” King said. “Nothing’s easy anymore, especially if you’re a farmer,” he lamented.

Frederickson’s original filing to convert forestry land to agricultural land was approved last year.

According to the state’s Farming in Wetland Resource Areas: A Guide to Agriculture and the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, a conservation commission cannot require a farmer to submit an RDA for something agriculturally exempt from the Wetlands Protection Act; however, an assertion that an exemption applies when it does not is a violation. The guide recommends farmers file an RDA “as a means of establishing with certainty the permitting requirements (if any) for such activity.” It also recommends that filing an RDA “can be in the farmer’s best interest.”The guide also states that commissions, as well as any member of the public, may also file an RDA for a project, either proposed or underway, “as a means of establishing with certainty the permitting requirements (if any) for such activity.”

Also during the meeting, Ken Motta, on behalf of Donald and Millicent Carlstrom of 6 Ripple Street, presented a plan to raze and rebuild a house and shed, with some of the work slated for land subject to flooding. Motta said the new house would remain inside the existing house’s footprint, a requirement from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the floor elevation of the house would be built at 15 feet high, as per flood zone requirements. The Notice of Intent received approval in the form of an Order of Conditions.

The commission issued a Negative 3 determination for the Request for Determination of Applicability filed by Sarah and Nigel Hitchings, 28 Holly Lane, for the replacement and expansion by 8 feet of an existing deck. King noted that the work would take place within 40 feet of a bordering vegetated wetlands; however, he added that the building area is over an existing lawn, saying, “It doesn’t appear that there would be any issue,” and no siltation controls would be required.

The Notice of Intent for Ratcliffe and Ann Williams of 31 Shore Drive received approval and an Order of Conditions to construct a garage.

The public hearing for the Request for Determination of Applicability filed by the Mattapoisett Land trust was continued until September 24 as the MLT awaits a response from MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, and the public hearing for John and Roger Gibbons to pave 658 feet of Foster Street was continued until August 27.

The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission is scheduled for August 27 at 6:30 pm at the Mattapoisett Town Hall.

Mattapoisett Conservation Commission

By Jean Perry


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