By Alex Harris
Last November, after years of grassroots advocacy by concerned citizens, Ridgefield voted to amend the Town Charter and create an independent Inland Wetlands Board (IWB) separate from the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z). Ridgefield Democrats energetically campaigned for the change, publishing and promoting a voter guide, advocating on our website, social media, print and mass email. The vote occurred in the context of the regularly scheduled four-year Charter Revision process.
Subsequently, P&Z disclosed that an obsolete ordinance requires that P&Z, “in their capacity as the Inland Wetlands Board,” shall function as the Aquifer Protection Agency (APA) for the Town of Ridgefield. Because the ordinance is not part of the Town Charter, it fell outside the legal scope of Charter Revision Commission. When the independent IWB takes office in November 2019, the Charter and the current ordinance could be in conflict, since the ordinance appears to contemplate a combined P&Z and IWB. To eliminate a potential pretext for costly, fruitless litigation, First Selectman Rudy Marconi asked the Board of Selectmen to schedule a Town Meeting so that voters may clearly assign APA to either IWB or P&Z.
While some bemoan a Town Meeting on an issue they thought settled, state law treats planning and zoning, inland wetlands, and aquifer protection as three distinct municipal functions. Thus, it is desirable that Ridgefield purposely assign APA responsibility. Outside of New England, decisions such as this are not typically entrusted to voters but may be capriciously decided by unelected administrators without public awareness. So, while it may seem tedious, this public meeting is a precious element of New England’s unique tradition of direct democracy.
At the August 21 public hearing on aquifer protection, Democratic IWB candidates David Tatge and Tracey Miller spoke for themselves and their IWB running mates Susan Baker and Kory Salomone. Tatge explained that wetlands and aquifers are components of a single hydrological system and must be protected as an integrated whole by an expert board dedicated to that purpose. Miller noted that all eight IWB candidates are, without exception, qualified and conscientious, so the new board’s expertise to protect aquifers is assured.
Democratic P&Z candidate Susan Consentino read a statement on behalf of herself and her P&Z running mates, Ben Nneji and Robert Hendrick, also calling for APA to be assigned to IWB. They noted that planning and zoning is increasingly complex and time-consuming, reducing P&Z’s ability to adequately focus on aquifer and drinking water protection at the very same time as the potential for adverse aquifer impacts grows at an accelerating rate.
Ridgefield can ensure a safe, healthy water supply and environment tomorrow by making the right decision today.
Ridgefield Democrats urge you to attend the Town Meeting on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, at 7:30 pm in Veterans Park School Auditorium, and to vote to assign aquifer protection to the independent Inland Wetlands Board.
Alex Harris is Chair of the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which provides this column.