Saturday, May 17, 2008

STATEMENT: ConCon ex-chair Henry Art favors wetlands bylaw proposal

The following is the text of a statement by Henry W. Art, former chairman and current member of the Williamstown Conservation Commission, and a biology professor at Williams College, supporting a proposed bylaw which would extend legal protections to certain wetlands areas. Art sent this statement by email on Thurs., May 15, 2008. Williasmtown, MA 01267. Art can be reached at 597-2461 or

By Henry W. Art

Over the past five years the Williamston Conservation Commission has worked to craft a local wetlands bylaw in response both to the Towns 2002 Master Plan and to what were found to be the needs of our local community.

The local bylaw is designed to protect those headwater streams that were, until the 1980s, protected by the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act. The headwaters would be surrounded by 100-foot buffers in which development can take place, but not in a manner that would increase downstream flooding or diminish the water quality.

Additionally, isolated wetlands that do not have an above-ground channel to adjacent rivers and vernal pools that are not imbedded in other wetlands or buffers, would be afforded protection. These wetlands are important for reducing flooding, maintaining the purity of our drinking water, and serving as breeding sites for many amphibian populations.

The Conservation Commission, over the past several years, eheld a series of public hearings over the past several years in order to incorporate the concerns of the public and Town officials, and as a result the bylaw was revised to exempt the Town of Williamstown, as well as other public service agencies, in order to provide the level of services to which our residents have become accustomed. The resulting bylaw is designed to reduce the potential for downstream flooding and protecting the quality of water in the Town without placing an undue burden on its residents.

Over the past several weeks a group has formed to defeat the bylaw at the May 25 Town Meeting, claiming that protecting these local wetlands would have negative impacts on the towns tax base and would put the environment ahead of people. In fact the bylaw does neither.

Neither are the wetlands that the bylaw acts to protect suitable for the type of development that the Town needs to bolster its tax base, nor is the reduction of the costs associated with downstream flooding putting the environment ahead of people. Furthermore, people who live close to headwater steams are often using shallow groundwater wells as their sources of domestic water supply, and the protection of this resource is an important aspect in there ability to live there.

The passage of the bylaw is an important step in protecting the public of Williamstown. In a real sense, we all live downstream.