Wetlands Setback Proposal

A larger regulated activity zone could mean needing permission for basic yard projects 

Homeowners petition and relevant links at bottom

The Salisbury Inland Wetland and Watercourses Commission has proposed extending its regulated activity area to 200 feet from the shoreline, up from the state-mandated 75 feet, at four of the six lakes in its jurisdiction. Those are Twin Lakes (Washining, Washinee) Lakeville Lake (Wononskoponmuc), and Long Pond (Wonopakook).  Riga and South Pond are excluded from the expanded shoreline setback. The new rules would also expand regulated activity to 100 feet from any wetlands or streams, up from the 75 feet in the current state statutes.

These new rules have been in development for more than a year, but no one has sought input from Twin Lakes area property owners, who could wind up needing approvals for simple yard and home maintenance projects such as removing a fallen or dead tree, or stump, or repairing a driveway or repaving the roads that surround our lakes.

The vast majority of homes on Twin Lakes rest within 200 feet of the shoreline. In many cases, the extension of “regulated activity” to 200 feet would stretch beyond the front door to the road on the far side of these homes. The proposed rules also introduce definitions of regulated activities including “clear cutting” and “grubbing.” Removing more than 50% of the brush from an area as small as 500 square feet (about the size of a large living room) would become regulated activity in the expanded zone. (The formal proposal says “50 feet” but we have been told that is a typo.)

Our reading of the language in the proposal leaves the door open to an even wider interpretation of the “Upland Review Area” and potentially allows the Wetlands Commission to exert authority well beyond the scope of anything the town is describing, according to lawyers who have reviewed the proposal. The language further opens the door to third parties inserting themselves into routine applications where public input is not a normal part of the process, these lawyers say.

This proposal is only now getting a public airing and many in the community would like detailed answers and a chance to be heard before the Wetlands Commission acts on the proposed rules. The Twin Lakes Association board is one interested group and supports slowing the process to allow time for a wider discussion of what could be significant issues. Separately, a group of lakefront property owners–The Salisbury Lakes Homeowners–are organizing, apart from the TLA, to try to stop the process and gain time to study the issue and engage with the town. 

The Wetlands Commission held a “workshop” on March 1. No public comment was allowed. A special meeting is planned on April 26 to answer questions from the public. The Wetlands Commission has requested that questions be submitted in writing in advance of that meeting.  The town website has a redline of new rules, an information sheet, and slides from the March 1 meeting along with a recording of the informational overview of the new proposed regulations. The Zoom invite for the April 26 meeting will be posted here later. The homeowner’s group is posting relevant publicly available documents.

Once a proposal is formally submitted, the Wetlands Commission must follow a timeline for approval as prescribed by law. After the April 26 workshop another opportunity for public comment is required. But once the time for public input passes the commissioners become sole arbiters of approving, denying, or changing any new rules. Property owners and other interested parties have no ability to appeal the commission’s ruling to a higher authority.  

The TLA is putting together a list of questions and concerns to submit to the Wetlands Commission before the April 26 meeting. You can find those on this page when they are ready. You can suggest questions at president@twinlakesassociation.org or send them directly to the Wetlands Commission at aconroy@salisburyct.us. Meanwhile, the lakefront property owners group is moving ahead with its own questions. We expect there will be some overlap with TLA questions. The homeowner group’s questions and concerns include:

  • What problem is town trying to solve? The Commissioners identify municipalities with rules similar to their proposal but do not provide scientific data or other justification for an expansion of regulatory authority. The town must present quantifiable data that supports a demonstrable need for the new rules.
  • Who developed the proposal? No one from the Twin Lakes area was invited to participate or even informed that rules in excess of what the state requires were in the works.
  • Why are the changes being driven forward on short notice? The community has not had adequate time to understand the issues and offer input from residents who will be directly affected by the new rules.
  • Why are the rules proposed for only four of the six lakes in town? What issues would make the four lakes in question subject to the new rules and exclude the other two? If one lake has significant issues that call for greater regulation, what is the justification for extending a blanket imposition of new rules on other lakes?
  • Homeowners must have a clear understanding of what is permitted without prior approval. State rules specify that a homeowner is not allowed to decide what is permitted activity in the review area. That is the sole right of the Wetlands Commission. Without clear guidance and examples of what is allowed, homeowners are left with little choice but to seek approval for routine projects. Currently, the approval process can take several months, and it can be costly. The alternative is to proceed at one’s own risk, forcing property owners into an untenable position.
  • It’s not clear that the commissioners have considered the administrative burden likely to be created. Connecticut State law requires that wetlands regulations be balanced with economic growth; the Town of Salisbury should be required to demonstrate that it has the capacity to regulate these activities without creating prolonged delays or higher costs for homeowners or the Town, which would shoulder any additional administrative expense.
  • The town already has extensive review and approval authority over activities that occur along the shoreline. This includes Planning and Zoning regulations and the current state regulations for wetlands. The Wetlands Commission has made general claims as to the goals of the proposal, but they have provided no data or examples substantiating that issues exist and that the new rules would adequately address such issues.

Useful links:

Homeowners petition

Homeowners second letter to Wetlands Commission

Homeowners questions for Wetlands Commission

Homeowners slides 3.23

Homeowners zoom 3.23

Homeowners first letter to Wetlands Commission

Salisbury Lakes Homeowners

Town website

Redlined proposal

Information sheet

Slides

Agenda and Zoom invite

Newsletter report

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