FairPLAN urges restoration of conservation position

Fairfielders Protecting Land and Neighborhoods (FairPLAN) urges town officials to once again fund a fulltime Inland Wetlands Compliance Officer (IWCO) in order to satisfy state mandates and to protect the town’s valued environment.

“Fairfield needs a fulltime Inland Wetlands Compliance Officer to fulfill statutory requirements, to protect Fairfield’s environment, and to contribute to the Town’s economic growth,” said Alexis Harrison, chair of FairPLAN. “Nine thousand acres, which is almost 50% of Fairfield’s land area, is subject to Inland Wetlands regulation, but the Town has not had a fulltime Inland Wetlands Compliance Officer since 2008.”

FairPLAN recognizes that there are many budget demands facing the Town this year, but funding for the Inland Wetlands Compliance Officer (IWCO) must be a priority. Preservation and regulation of Fairfield’s inland wetlands is required by Connecticut’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act, which notes that “preservation and protection of the wetlands…is essential to the health, welfare and safety of the citizens of the state….” Protecting wetlands is essential in Fairfield because inland wetlands provide important natural flood mitigation. If Fairfield fails to properly enforce wetlands regulations, it risks revocation of its authority, which would result in the State assuming regulatory control over the Town’s wetlands.

Wetlands regulation in Fairfield has two primary aspects: permitting and enforcement. Property owners and developers need permits to work in proximity to regulated areas, and it is the job of the IWCO to make sure that permit applications are accurate, that they are approved in a timely manner, and that work is properly performed pursuant to permits. “This permitting function has important economic consequences for Fairfield because permit fees are a source of revenue, and rapid processing of permits enhances economic activity in Town while increasing the property tax base,” said Mary Hogue, FairPLAN Vice-Chair.

Currently, IWCO duties are performed on a part-time basis by Fairfield’s Open Space Manager (OSM). The Open Space Manager is responsible for marsh restoration (a critical program for maintaining flood protection), and the OSM has other important duties, especially the administration of over 1,200 acres of open space in Fairfield. There is a direct correlation between the quantity/quality of open space and property values. By diverting the OSM from open space duties, Fairfield is experiencing degradation to its open space, reductions in programs that utilize open space, and the Town faces the likelihood of a negative impact on property values (and thus on property taxes).

A regulatory function such as wetlands compliance is not intended to be a profit center for a municipality. Its primary purpose is administration, protection, inspection, and preservation. Mary Hogue noted that “Fairfield is fortunate that the Inland Wetlands Compliance function offers the Town direct revenue while contributing to economic vitality and increased property values.”

“Restoring the IWCO to the staff of our Conservation Department is a regulatory necessity and a good bargain for Fairfield,” Alexis Harrison.

For more information, contact Alexis Harrison at [email protected]

FairfieldPLAN’s mission is to support open spaces, natural resources and the character of our neighborhoods, by supporting positive government action through good laws, regulations and land use decisions; promoting appropriate development to achieve both economic and environmental health; being a resource for local groups by providing education, support and advocacy; and encouraging and sponsoring planning initiatives.

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