Protection for wetlands is in the 'gaps'
Federal officials say local rules may help
New York Poughkeepsie Journal
MILLBROOK -- Significant gaps in federal and state wetlands
protections can be filled by local laws, federal officials
During a meeting last week of the Dutchess County Environmental
Management Council, two Army Corps of Engineers regulators
pointed to examples of local wetlands preservation laws
-- including one recently passed in the Town of Fishkill
-- that help fill in those gaps.
While the officials stopped short of endorsing often-controversial
efforts to enact local laws, they identified gaps in federal
and state laws that leave ecologically important wetlands
''What I would want to do is find out where the gaps
are,'' said James Cronin, a biologist and project manager,
explaining the function of local wetlands laws. ''There
The Army Corps of Engineers regulated all wetlands, but
a 2001 Supreme Court ruling and subsequent guidelines
from the Bush Administration restrict federal jurisdiction
over ''isolated'' wetlands not connected to navigable
waters. Federal laws also allow building right up to the
edge of wetlands.
State laws regulate wetlands 12.4 acres or bigger and
require a buffer around those wetlands for added protection.
The Fishkill law passed last week is an example of how
a local law can fill some of those gaps. It applies to
wetlands, streams and other water bodies between one and
12.4 acres, and allows for the protection of a buffer
around most wetlands.
Wetlands serve important functions in the environment
such as cleansing water, helping restore the groundwater
most Dutchess County residents drink and providing habitat
for wildlife. An estimated 50 percent of New York's wetlands
were filled or drained before laws were passed to protect
''That's why a lot of locals are interested in these
local rules,'' said Gwen Harding-Peets, chairwoman of
the Environmental Management Council.
Carl Diesing, a builder from the Town of Poughkeepsie
who attended the meeting, said he would rather not see
more stringent local laws, in part because of the headaches
and costs of additional paperwork.
''My feeling is we could get another (that is) the same
as what we have to obey now,'' he said.
Several proponents of local laws said they see merit
in local laws that allow for a single permit application
that combines local laws with the existing combined state/federal