Town wetlands draw debate in Lyndeborough

LYNDEBOROUGH – There is little agreement among officials about whether the town’s many wetlands need more protection from development, logging operations, pollution and general degradation.

Jennifer Czysz, a specialist with Nashua Regional Planning Commission, led a discussion of wetlands on Tuesday, April 11, that began last November at the request of the Board of Selectmen. Members of the Planning Board and Conservation Commission took sometimes animated part in the discussion, which was scheduled for an hour but which ran longer.

The agenda covered six areas, including inventory, protection, ordinances and buffers, timber harvesting best practices and enforcement. The town has a new natural inventory, so that topic wasn’t discussed further.

Protection of important areas was considered a high priority, but not feasible because of costs. The Conservation Commission has several projects under consideration, its members said.

There are 12 functions of a wetland that have to be considered in evaluating them, Czysz said. Those include habitat, both animal and plant life; educational outreach to landowners and the public; raising awareness of the importance of wet areas in the ecosystem; water quality; scenic qualities; and floodwater retention.

It was decided almost immediately that the town doesn’t need a prime wetlands ordinance, which adds another layer of regulations. Lyndeborough doesn’t have the topography, several said, and the state Shoreline Protection Act protects the major streams and ponds.

But agreement ended there.

“We have one of the best wetlands protection ordinances in the area,” Zoning Board member Tom Chrisenton said. “So what’s the problem?”

Conservation Commission member Mike Decubelis answered, “Most towns have some kind of buffer (around wetlands), and we don’t.” He added, “Without a buffer, anything you do there is legal.”

But, Chrisenton said, the subdivision regulations show wetlands and have buffers.

The problem, Decubelis said, is lots of record that are built on without subdivision.

A problem with buffers on a small lot, Chrisenton said, whether 50 feet or 100 feet, is that they can leave no space for the house.

And, some asked, If there is a buffer, who enforces it?

With local ordinances, it is the town, whether selectmen, building inspector or town forester, rather than a state agency. And if there is an ordinance, everyone has to comply.

Czysz led the conversation back to the list to try to determine what is appropriate, and feasible, for Lyndeborough to consider.

Prime wetlands designation was determined to be unfeasible. The subdivision ordinances could be updated to include buffers.

But, cemetery trustee Ginny Chrisenton said, “You have to define what is a wetland.” She noted that using vegetation guides can be confusing and can include some uplands.

Decubelis said the problem is existing lots.

“Now is the time, the opportunity, to protect our water,” he said.

Much of the area’s water rises in Lyndeborough, and is currently clear and needs to be protected.

Logging operations were also seen as a problem because of several operators in the past who didn’t abide by state regulations and “ruined an area,” Selectman Fred Douglas said. They “tore down stone walls, left roads unreclaimed, paid no attention to water crossings.”

Requests to the state “went unanswered” because of lack of personnel to do the enforcement, he said.

“A town forester would keep an eye on operations, and he would know who those bad ones are,” Ginny Chrisenton said.

The selectmen have discussed hiring such a person.

It was noted that Lyndeborough has the lowest population density in the Nashua area, and most people would like to keep it that way.

Asked to vote by placing stickers on the list of topics in order of priority, the overwhelming choices were protection through purchase or easement and enforcement of existing ordinances.

The discussion will be continued by the various commissions, with the selectmen taking part.