Wetland reclassification moves ahead

By MARK KOBZIK

Shelburne’s Laplatte River marsh recently moved one step closer to getting stricter environmental protections.

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources recently found the wetland, “exceptional or irreplaceable in its contribution to Vermont’s natural heritage, and therefore merits the highest level of protection.” A petition filed by the Vermont National Resources Council in March 2017 prompted a review of the wetlands’ classification.

Vermont provides three levels of protection for its wetlands. Each carry with it specific criteria which range from size to its functionality. Class III is the lowest and least protected, with Class I being the most protected and valuable to the environment.

Laura Lapierre, wetlands manager at the Department of Environmental Conservation, described the difference between Laplatte’s current Class II designation and the proposed Class I.

“A Class II wetland is regulated by the state because it has one or more significant functions or values which merit protection. Activities in a Class II wetland which are not allowed uses require a permit. A permit may only be given if it is found that the project cannot be practicably located outside of the wetland and there is no net loss of wetland function or value (so wetland may need to be restored after the disturbance or wetland created elsewhere).”

Class I is much more simple and restrictive.

“The only projects which may be permitted in a Class I wetland are those which are important for public health or safety and cannot be practicably located outside of the wetland,” Lapierre wrote in an email.

After public meetings over during spring and summer of 2017, the Wetlands Program at the DEC moved the request along to the rulemaking phase in December. The Interagency Committee on Administrative Rules approved the rule on Jan. 8. An additional public meeting will be held before it is finalized. That meeting has not yet been scheduled, Lapierre said.

She explained that the new designation will recognize the important role the wetland plays in the environment. “The 200-plus acre LaPlatte wetlands filter sediment and nutrients from reaching Shelburne Bay which is the drinking water source for thousands of Chittenden County residents. Preserving this intact wetland will allow it to continue to provide this water quality service while we continue to invest in cleaning up Lake Champlain,” Lapierre said.

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