Harrisville Conservation Commission
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Meeting Minutes

The Harrisville Conservation Commission held its monthly meeting at town offices and via zoom on Wednesday, August 26, one week in advance of its usual session due to the Labor Day holiday.

Members present: Harry Wolhandler, Kathy Scott, Don Scott, Les LaMois, Earl Horn, Andrea Polizos, and Diana Shonk

Members of the public: Edward Moura, Charmin Moura, Jim Phippard of Brickstone Consultants, and Winston Sims

Members voted unanimously in favor to approve the agenda.

Meeting Minutes of August 5, 2020
Winston Sims requested that the minutes reflect his support, stated in the August 5 meeting, of Don Scott’s suggested wetland buffer of 50’, as Dublin has instituted. Members voiced no objections and, following this, members unanimously voted in favor to approve the minutes.

Wetland Permit By Notification (PBN) for 60 Westside Road (Map 72-Lot 16)
Jim Phippard, representing Edward Moura and Sharman Howe, described the property owners’ proposal to DES to replace an existing dock which is in disrepair. The dock is 6×30’ in dimension, the permitted dimensions for their frontage. Aluminum will replace wood for material, and the dock will be installed on the existing concrete abutment. DES allows for expedited review of such minimal impact projects as long as the Conservation Commission signs off on the application.  HCC members voted unanimously in favor to approve the Moura’s request and for the HCC to sign the application. Mr. Wolhandler will leave a signed copy in the Select Board office for the Mouras to pick up.

Wetland buffers – discussion and input for ORC
HCC members then turned to drafting its recommendations to the Ordinance Review Committee regarding wetland buffers. Harry Wolhandler noted that, with 78% of Harrisville land in either current use or conservation, he believes the intention of the ORC is to propose a buffer to protect wetlands while allowing the minimal number of property owners affected by a more restrictive ordinance an opportunity to apply for a special exception or conditional use permit.  During discussion of the importance of vernal pools and the desire to add them to the existing USGS wetland maps, Mr. Wolhandler showed the Harris Center’s map plotting some of Harrisville’s vernal pools and noted the Harris Center welcomes HCC input to plot those that are missing.

Subsequently, Andrea Polizos summarized her findings from the wetlands research, suggestions she had shared by email with all HCC members for review. She strongly believes the HCC’s mandate is to protect the town’s natural resources and, of all the town bodies, has the unique responsibility to do so. She stated that, while a 100’ buffer does not offer total protection, it allows wildlife, especially amphibians, a chance and supports clean water. She agrees with the 100’ buffer recommendation of the EPA. Les LaMois and Earl Horn echoed Ms. Polizos’s position to propose strict standards. Don Scott added his support of the 100’ buffer as this is the predominant recommendation throughout the research, and also because it’s the law in Massachusetts.

Discussion turned to requirements in wetland areas of less than 3,000 square feet, which might not be large enough area to be protected because smaller areas of wetlands are unable to carry out the same functions as larger spans, unless they contain a vernal pool, which renders it critical. It was noted, however, that smaller-size wetlands are of value for stormwater management and water storage. State regulations still protect these areas as wetlands, and they cannot be filled in.

The Chair reminded members of the importance of balancing needs of humans and of nature and allowing for the ability for towns to develop in ways that don’t harm nature.

Don Scott suggested the HCC consider what would be allowed within certain distances from wetlnds. He suggested a “no-build” zone within 50’ of a wetland and then, between the 50’ and 100’ distances, not allowing any allowed use to occupy more than 20% of the entire 100’ buffer area. Such uses could include gazebos, sheds or small storage structures, under 100 square feet, with no foundations, no habitation and no fuel storage, and possibly patios, fences, stone walls, unpaved pathways and native trees, shrubs and groundcover.  All generally agreed with this proposal. The Chair reiterated the hope to allow for special exceptions. Members then looked at the existing language in the Wetlands Conservation District article which allows for applicants to seek a conditional use permit from the Planning Board.

On discussion of lawns, the consensus among members was to allow lawn in the 50’ to 100’ distance from wetland, but no more than 20% of the whole setback area of 100’, so that 80% remains undisturbed. All members are against allowing above-ground pools anywhere within 100’.

When concern was raised about inadequate protection for small, 3,000 square feet and under, wetlands, following discussion members agreed that a 25’ setback would be a reasonable recommendation for wetlands of this size.  Members also agreed that all vernal pools and bogs would be protected by 100’, under state regulations.

On the topic of restricting timber harvesting in wetlands, the HCC will ask the ORC if cutting in wetland buffers can be restricted or if state regulations override local.

Trails Committee
Earl Horn reported that the committee can’t do anything on signage until it hears back from SWRPC on the MAST grant proposal.

Silver Lake
Kathy Scott reported for the Select Board that in the near term, parking is being enforced and, longer term, the Silver Lake Association and Select Board will coordinate with state agencies to address crowd management and safety on and around the water.

Potential wetlands violation
The Chair shared with members that the HCC was notified that a homeowner is being investigated by DES following complaint of a potential violation of wetlands permit laws. The property owner has 20 days to respond to DES.

The meeting adjourned at 9:30 pm.