FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS THE WELLESLEY WETLANDS PROTECTION COMMITTEE?
Referred to as “Conservation Commission” in other communities, Wellesley’s “Wetlands Protection Committee” is a volunteer committee comprised of five members, appointed by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC). The NRC, having the powers and duties of Conservation Commissions, has delegated to the Wetlands Protection Committee the power and authority to administer and enforce the provisions of the Wetlands Protection Act (G.L. Chapter 131, Section 40) and Wellesley’s Wetlands Protection Bylaw (Article 44).
WHAT DOES THE WETLANDS PROTECTION COMMITTEE DO?
The Committee is the Town's permitting authority charged with the protection of wetland and upland resource areas. The Committee is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the State and Town wetlands laws.
WHAT ARE THE WETLANDS LAWS?
Both the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (“Act," MGL Ch. 131 Sec. 40), and Wellesley’s Wetlands Protection Bylaw (“Bylaw,” Article 44) require landowners to secure permits from the Wetlands Protection Committee before doing any work near a Resource Area (wetland, swamp, stream, pond, land subject to flooding, vernal pool, etc., as well as some upland areas). Violations of these laws can result in significant fines.
WHAT IS THE WETLANDS PROTECTION ACT?
The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act exists to preserve and protect wetlands by preventing pollution; reducing the effects of potential flooding; storm damage prevention; protecting groundwater supplies; maintaining habitats for plants and wildlife; and protecting public and private water supplies. A vernal pool habitat, which includes a buffer of 100 feet around the pool, is presumed to be significant to wildlife habitat when it lies within a state wetland resource area.
WHAT IS THE WELLESLEY WETLANDS PROTECTION BYLAW?
The Wellesley Wetlands Protection Bylaw (Article 44) was approved by the Town on April 2, 2002 and became effective on September 12, 2002. The Committee then adopted the following sections to better define the Bylaw:
Application Filing Fees on October 9, 2003;
Performance Standards in October 2003 (revised on June 24, 2004); and
Rules for Hiring Outside Consultants on April 22, 2004.
WHAT RESOURCE AREAS ARE PROTECTED?
The following “resource areas” are protected by Wellesley’s Wetlands Protection Bylaw:
Wetlands marshes wet meadows bogs swamps
banks reservoirs lakes ponds
rivers streams creeks
Isolated wetlands containing at least 2,500 square feet of surface area;
Upland areas land within 100 feet of the above resource areas;
Vernal pool habitats which include the upland areas within 100 feet of vernal pools;
200 foot Riverfront ("Riverfront Area") land within 200 feet of perennial streams/rivers; and
Lands that flood bordering land subject to flooding (i.e., abutting wetlands) and;
isolated land subject to flooding (i.e., upland area depressions)
(the above floodplains do not have buffer zones)
WHAT KINDS OF ACTIVITIES ARE PROHIBITED IN RESOURCE AREAS?
You may not clear, cut, fill, dump (not even leaves, grass clippings or dirt), alter, grade, landscape or build upon the areas listed above without a permit from the Wetlands Protection Committee:
Resource Areas (see above)
100-foot Buffer Zone Resource Areas
The term "alter" includes destruction of vegetation, changes in drainage characteristics or flow patterns, changing of water quality or characteristics, dumping, and placing of any kind of structure.
If the proposed work will not degrade a wetland, you may maintain existing (“grandfathered”) structures and/or landscapes, but only if:
They were created before the wetlands laws were enacted, or
They have been issued an Order of Conditions.
Therefore, for example, mowing your (pre-existing/current) lawn and re-planting your (pre-existing/current) garden are allowed (i.e. do not the prior review or approval of the Committee).
WHY ARE WETLANDS SO IMPORTANT?
State and local laws preserve wetlands because of their contribution to our quality of life. Wetlands store floodwater to release slowly down stream preventing storm damage and reducing flood levels.
They help ensure the quality and quantity of our public and private water supply by allowing water to filter slowly into the ground. Wetlands absorb excess nutrients and trap many kinds of pollution, filtering water before it reaches our rivers, streams, ponds and lakes.
Many kinds of animals, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects inhabit and/or use Wellesley's wetlands, streams and ponds. Wetlands and their buffers provide places for animals to move about, feed, breed and live. These wild wet places also provide Wellesley with much needed open space, and contribute to the scenic beauty of our town.
Currently, our wetlands’ health is being threatened by excessive nutrient input (from fertilizers, etc.), the invasion of non-native plant species, trash/litter, and pollutants from roadway storm drains and other sources.
HOW CAN I TELL WHETHER I HAVE A RESOURCE AREA ON MY PROPERTY?
The legal definition of wetlands includes: ponds, streams, rivers, marshes, vernal pools, red maple swamps, wet meadows, and lands subject to flooding, but wetlands may not appear to be wet all the time. Actually, an area would only need to flood for two consecutive weeks out of the year, to cause the area's soil and/or vegetation to "adapt" to these yearly wet conditions.
As a first step in determining whether you live near a wetland, you may wish to refer to Wellesley's Wetlands Map (http://www.wellesleyma.gov/Pages/WellesleyMA_NIS/WetlandsMap_36x20.pdf).
PLEASE NOTE: The wetlands map is provided as a general reference only and IS NOT TO BE USED FOR LEGAL OR REGULATORY PURPOSES (please see map's disclaimer), but it is a good place to begin your research.
If your proposed project appears to be located within 100 feet of a wetland, or within 200 feet of a river or stream, you shuold either (1) file a Request for Determination of Applicability with the Committee (see below), or (2) consult with a wetland specialist.
A wetland specialist can help you determine whether you live near a wetland. To determine whether wetland areas are located on (or adjacent to) your site, the wetland specialist would review the area's plant species (such as jewelweed, red maple trees or skunk cabbage), and soil conditions (wetland soils might appear grayish or mottled).
If your proposed project includes any work within 100 feet of a wetland or vernal pool, or within 200 feet of a stream, then you will need to submit a wetlands application and a plan to show the limits of the delineated wetlands and/or other resource areas.
WHAT ABOUT FLOODPLAINS?
Floodplain maps, issued by the National Flood Insurance Program, show floodplain levels along some rivers and streams.
In Wellesley, studies performed by Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM), determined flood levels along many of our streams and lakes. Some of these flood levels (listed below) were approved at Town Meetings during the following years:
1974 Charles River flood zones delineated
1976 Brooks and Streams Plan, rev. 8/01/76
1978 Floodplain districts around six lakes and ponds as follows:
Abbott Pond 174 topo line (Wellesley Data)
Paintshop Pond 120 topo
Rockridge Pond 219
Sabrina Lake 138
Waban Lake 112
Wight Pond 122
Morses Pond (approved later) 125
1981 CDM Surface Drainage Master Plan
Longfellow Pond 81.6
Reeds Pond 135.7
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM PLANNING WORK IN OR NEAR A WETLAND?
If you are planning to alter any areas that are located within 100 feet of a wetland or within 200 feet of a stream, you may need to file a Notice of Intent (“NOI”) under State and Town wetland protection laws before commencing any activities.
If you are unsure whether your proposed project will require a wetland permit, you can file a Request for a Determination of Applicability, which is an informal process asking the Committee to determine whether a NOI will be required.
WHAT KIND OF WETLAND APPLICATION SHOULD I FILE?
The Committee regularly processes several kinds of applications under the Act and Bylaw. The following applications are the most commonly filed:
Request for Determination of Applicability (“RFD”) – to determine whether the law applies to a particular area and project.
Notice of Intent ("NOI") – for projects that propose to alter a State or Town resource area.
Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation ("ANRAD") – for the review (and approval) of wetland and/or upland resource area boundary lines. An ANRAD can be filed prior to the filing of a NOI, as it allows an applicant to receive certification for the exact boundaries and status of their property’s resource areas before they begin to design their project.
After the Committee had help a hearing or meeting for their review of the above application forms, they will issue the following permits, which are all valid for three years.
Determination of Applicability.
The response to a RFD is a Determination of Applicability ("Determination"). The Determination establishes which portions of a property are subject to the law and which are not. A positive DOA would be issued for proposed work that requires the filing of a NOI.
Order of Conditions.
The Committee’s response to a NOI is an Order of Conditions (OoC) to do the work. This can include either a denial of the project, or an approval which can spell out in detail the terms under which the proposed work can be performed.
Order of Resource Area Delineation.
An Order of Resource Area Delineation (ORAD) is the response to an ANRAD, and addresses resource area and boundary delineations, as well as “simplified reviews.”
ARE THERE ANY DEADLINES FOR SUBMITTING APPLICATIONS?
Yes! Please refer to this website’s "Meeting Dates” link, which will bring you to the Committee's list of meeting dates and application deadlines.
PLEASE NOTE: If you want the Committee to review any new submissions, they (documents, plans, etc.) MUST BE RECEIVED BY THE COMMITTEE'S OFFICE NO LATER THAN FOUR (4) BUSINESS DAYS BEFORE THE COMMITTEE'S MEETING DATE.
This minimum amount of time is necessary to allow for the Committee’s and the Wetlands Administrator’s review of the information. Documentation received less than four days before a meeting may be excluded from consideration during the meeting.
ARE THERE ANY PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING WETLANDS LAWS?
Yes! Violations of the state Act are punishable by fines of up to $25,000 and two years in prison.
Under the Bylaw, violators can be assessed fines of $300 per violation, per day (for each day that the violation continues). In addition, a landowner is usually required to restore any illegally altered land to its original condition.
WHEN SHOULD I CONSULT THE COMMITTEE?
If you believe you are within 100 feet of a wetland or vernal pool, or 200 feet of any river or stream, or:
1. When you plan to do any landscaping, dig a hole, or fill a hole.
2. When you plan to cut a bush or tree, plant a bush or tree or change the vegetation surrounding
your home in any way.
3. When you plan to put an addition on your house, add a pool or side buildings.
4. When you plan to pave what is now a gravel driveway.
5. When you plan to install a new driveway.
6. When you plan to install or repair a septic system.
7. When you plan to alter a stream or stream bed.
8. When you plan to do anything about that nasty puddle of water in your yard.
9. When you plan to move a wall or install one.
10. Before you buy a house.
11. When you’re wondering what that NO WORK BEYOND THIS POINT sign means.
12. When you’re wondering what DEP followed by a lot of numbers on a sign means.
13. When a woman from a red Saturn Vue is standing in the street, looking at that nice hole you just
dug, and shaking her head.
When in doubt, the Wetlands Protection Committee’s office staff will be happy to assist you.
DO ZONING BYLAWS HELP TO PROTECT WETLANDS?
Wellesley's Zoning Bylaws provide additional protection to wetlands.
Section XIVB establishes Floodplain and Watershed Protection Districts for major ponds and streams.
Section XIVE establishes two Water Supply Protection Districts over major aquifers.
A Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals is required for certain projects in these zoning districts; the Wetlands Protection Committee reviews and comments on applications for these Permits.
WHERE CAN I OBTAIN ADDITIONAL INFORMATION?
This website contains links to excellent wetlands resources, including wetland laws and science, as well as downloadable application forms, and other information. You can also contact the Wetlands Protection Committee’s office staff, or consult with an environmental professional.
In addition, both the Town Clerk’s office and the Natural Resources Commission's office have printed copies of the Wetlands Protection Bylaw and Regulations and wetlands maps for sale.
HOW CAN I BECOME A WETLANDS COMMITTEE MEMBER?
Wetlands Protection Committee members are appointed by the Natural Resources Commission (with the advice of the Wetlands Protection Committee), as vacancies become available. If you are interested in becoming a Committee member, please send a letter of interest or an email to the Wetlands Protection Committee’s Office.
WHAT DO ASSOCIATE MEMBERS DO?
Associate members can either fill in for absent Committee members (when a quorum is needed), or they can attend every meeting. In other words, they can be as active as they want to. Associate members are allowed to vote and are usually asked to fill membership vacancies as they occur.
Becoming an Associate Wetlands Protection Committee member is a good way to become familiar with how town government works.
WHAT IS A VERNAL POOL?
A vernal pool is a temporary pond that does not support breeding fish populations. There are approximately 550 species of vertebrates and invertebrates utilizing vernal pools’ unique habitats. Vernal pools are becoming increasingly rare, due to habitat destruction through land development. They are protected resource areas in Wellesley, regardless of whether they have, or have not, been officially certified through the Mass. Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program ("NHESP").
Each Spring, the Natural Resources Commission sponsors a vernal pool workshop which is held in one of Wellesley’s own vernal pools. Kids of all ages are welcome… please join in on the fun next Spring! Check this website next (early) Spring for details… we hope to see you there!
For more information about vernal pools and their inhabitants, please see our "Vernal Pool" link, or check out the Vernal Pool Association’s website (see "Website Links").
ARE THERE ANY ENDANGERED SPECIES IN WELLESLEY?
Possibly… but none have been documented in recent years. Wellesley’s endangered reptiles could include wood turtles or box turtles, and amphibians such as blue spotted salamanders and four toed salamanders could also live here.
For more information about endangered species, please see our Vernal Pools page, which includes the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program’s (MNHESP) web site, several species identification guides and the Vernal Pool Association’s web site.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I FIND AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?
It is actually against the law to capture or “take” an endangered species, so if you happen to come across one of these “critters”, run and grab your camera to document your find!
Documenting endangered species in Wellesley is critical to protecting these animals and their habitats. Go to the MNHESP’s web site for more information on endangered species in Massachusetts and how you can document your find. You can also call the Wetlands Administrator, who will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
ARE THERE ANY POISONOUS SNAKES IN WELLESLEY?
No. Although most snakes in our area have tiny needle-like teeth and will bite if handled, none are poisonous.
Some people erroneously believe that the black snakes they see basking around ponds and streams in the summer time are "water moccasins." They are merely Northern Water Snakes. Hog Nosed Snakes might live in Wellesley, which, when cornered or frightened may raise up on its lower body and spread its head in cobra fashion (which is very impressive, but completely harmless). If this defense does not work, the snake will fall over and play dead.