Bill would make it easier to map wetlands

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(Host)A bill before the senate Natural Resources Committee would make it easier to add – and subtract – wetlands from state wetlands maps. It’s estimated that a third of Vermont’s wetlands are unmapped, and therefore unprotected.

The maps were created by the federal government in 1990 using aerial photos. Since then many more wetlands have been identified by towns and by natural resources officials working on the ground. And some areas that looked like wetlands in the photos turned out to be something else.

But the maps haven’t been updated to reflect those discoveries, because the state hasn’t had a workable process for designating new wetlands.

Melanie Kehne says the legislation – passed by the House in April — empowers the Agency of Natural Resources to delineate significant wetlands and update the maps.

(Kehne) "It sets up an administrative process so that the agency of natural resources can make that determination, after 30 days notice to abutting landowners and an opportunity for them to comment or request a public meeting."

(Host) Kehne is a staff attorney for the state’s Water Resources Panel, which administers wetland and water quality rules. She was part of a group that met for three years to resolve wetlands issues. The group reflected every segment of the population that the addition of new protected wetlands might affect -from developers and farmers to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bob Hill is the Executive Vice President of the Vermont Realtors Association and he was part of the group. He’s satisfied with the compromises it reached, even though the increased protection means new limits on what landowners and builders can do in some areas.

(Hill) "Primarily what they’re looking for is clarity in the process, objectivity and predictability. As long as you have those three things, property owner should know how to proceed. Obviously if there’s a wetland, we want to protect that."

(Host) Wetlands help filter drinking water, control floods, remove polluting sediments from water flowing into streams and serve as important wildlife habitats.

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