Ineffective Order Needs New Plan

The Rochester Conservation Commission Tuesday night revealed that its dispute with the owner of 89 Box Turtle Drive over clearing land too close to wetlands without a permit has yet to be resolved nearly one year after the problem started.

            Commission Chairman Christopher Gerrior told the board the property owner and his attorney had promised that a Notice of Intent for work at the address would be filed by January. But that date has come and gone without definitive action from the owner or his attorney. Just correspondence, but little progress, he said. Meanwhile, the board had halted fining him for the unpermitted work last summer.

            The board debated whether to start fining the owner again but settled on contacting Rochester’s new town counsel for guidance first.

            “I recommend we start fining him again,” Commission member Ben Bailey said. “Then the lawyer will come in and talk to us. Eighty-Nine Box Turtle Drive’s lawyer has been good at playing rope-a-dope.”

            Conservation Commission members asked administrative assistant Dawn DiMaggio how much the process of fining 89 Box Turtle Drive has cost the board. She and Conservation Agent Merilee Kelly calculated a total of around $10,000. Kelly said that is because it cost the town $75 a day for every fine service.

            The commission ultimately agreed to member Mike Gifford’s suggestion that it first get the town attorney’s thoughts on what should be its next action and whether that should include fining him.

“We need an update or a new plan,” Gerrior said.

            The board agreed to begin delivering “noncriminal enforcement tickets,” fining the property owner on a climbing scale of $50, then $100, then $300 per day in July of 2022. The property owner’s wetland code violations involve working closer than 25 feet from wetlands without a permit. The board asked the property owner to file a restoration plan with erosion and sedimentation controls in late July 2022.

            Assessors’ records list the property’s owner only as Connett Woods LLC.

            The Commission began the meeting by swiftly approving a Certificate of Compliance for 226 Alley Road, where a single-family dwelling has been built with on-site sewerage disposal, driveway, utility installation and site grading.

            Gerrior complimented property owner Robert Barboza; Gerrior noted he was on the commission when the project started. “You turned a field into a fine house lot,” he said to Barboza. “Congratulations.”

            Next, the board approved two $60 invoices for its two websites but said it is working on eliminating one of them. DiMaggio said she was told the website managers didn’t want one site to be “bogged down.” That is why some pages, such as the list of hiking trails, were given a separate page, she said. Gerrior concluded the board will continue to pay both bills but will work to combine all its web pages onto one site.

            The board then reappointed William Clapp as a full member but left open the associate member position once held by Kevin Thompson. Gerrior said Thompson can no longer serve on the board because of family obligations. The board rejected his suggestion that Snow’s Pond ecology expert Michelle Kirby be appointed associate member, even though she spends six months of the year in Ecuador. Her expertise would be useful, but she would not be an in-person member for enough of the year, board members said.

            Lastly, Bailey said all of Rochester’s bigger ponds are on the state DEP’s list of Great Ponds, except one. Snow’s Pond is not on that list, even though it matches the criteria of being more than 10 acres. The pond, in fact, measures 55 acres, he said. He asked the Conservation agent to contact the DEP to correct the mistake.

            The Rochester Conservation Commission set its next meeting for Tuesday, April 4, at 7:00 pm.

Rochester Conservation Commission

By Michael J. DeCicco

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