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Governor in Deep Water over Proposed Wetlands Regulations

July 30, 2007

Governor Patrick is knee-deep in complaints from state residents upset about his proposed wetlands regulations. The 35 year-old "Wetlands Protection Act" allows citizens to appeal a development plan if it would negatively affect their community and Patrick is looking to limit the right to appeal. Patrick's supporters say this takes up too much time and money. James McCaffrey from the Sierra Club counters that Patrick would be removing a long-standing system of checks and balances.

"Often citizens prevail, and so the citizens end up being one of the few enforcement mechanisms that are actually really working under the wetlands regulation, so to take that out is a real problem."

He believes that building on wetlands can lead to problems such as dirtier water and weakened flood retention. After requirements for appeals were made stricter, the number of citizen appeals dropped from 21 in 2004 to only four last year.

Becky Smith from Clean Water Action says the small number of appeals shows that citizens are not the problem with the permitting process.

"It doesn't seem to me that citizens and citizen groups are creating a barrier. There are barriers causing backups in the appeals process and permitting decisions, but it's not this."

Sue Bass, president of the Mystic River Watershed Association, was involved in a wetland appeal. She recalls that once they had all of the evidence in, it took more than a year for a ruling.

"Evidence didn't take up time; what took a lot of time was the magistrate's schedule. They couldn't hold hearings promptly, they would schedule hearings for months away."

Kevin Clay/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MA