By Susan Baker
Well-functioning wetlands are critical to the preservation of water quality, protection from flooding, groundwater replenishment, and sustaining habitat for many species. Making sure that we carefully maintain these fragile areas by reviewing the goals of proposed development in terms of the potential for impact on wetland and watercourses and how to minimize or mitigate unavoidable impact ensures Ridgefield remains a healthy place to live.
In November, there will be three candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties standing for election to Ridgefield’s seven-member Inland Wetlands Board. As it happens, none of these seats is contested (one is an incumbent and two are running for open seats). Nevertheless, it is important to consider the qualifications of the citizens who will be involved in protecting our wetlands and watercourses.
While the Wetlands Board was established in 1974, it only appeared on the ballot as a separate entity in 2019, after town residents voted to separate it from the Planning and Zoning Commission. The work of the Board is nonpolitical; it involves a state-directed regulatory process that balances the need to protect wetlands, watercourses, and their environmental services with land use and economic growth. Most candidates for the Board are first approved by the members of the Democratic or Republican town committees, but in this case the two parties should have the same goal: to find the best candidates capable of protecting this community resource.
A good candidate may have specific expertise in wetlands and watercourses; however, “ordinary citizens” who are willing to put in the time to learn can also make good members. Regardless of background, all members of the Board are required to study and pass an online comprehensive training program provided by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, within a year of being seated. This program covers wetlands board enabling legislation, the permitting process, considerations for making decisions, the major functions and values of wetlands, and best management practices for enhancement and restoration of wetlands.
Once seated, board members must become familiar with the town’s inland wetlands and watercourses regulations. If the regulations are followed carefully, consistent decisions can be made on each application that will afford the maximum protection possible while allowing for development to occur. Each application is considered individually, but it is also part of an ongoing process that will allow the town’s wetlands and watercourses to continue to function as they currently are or in some cases better.
Regulation of wetlands and watercourses is essential to protect the shared resources that ultimately protect our properties, the safety of our water supply, and specialized habitat. Please take the time to review the candidates and vote for members of the Inland Wetlands Board.
Susan Baker is Vice Chair of the Ridgefield Inland Wetlands Board. The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.