Aquifer protection: Is it zoning or wetlands work?
Protecting the town’s aquifers — Ridgefielders’ future drinking water — is a job town officials all want done well. There’s some debate about what town agency should do the work.
“That’s all we want to know: Who’s going to protect the aquifers best?” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said.
The issue has come up in the wake of last fall’s vote to split the combined Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board into two agencies — a separation which will take place after members of a separate wetlands board are elected in November.
The current combined board and commission also functions as the town’s Aquifer Protection Agency.
When she brought the issue to the attention of the selectmen recently, Rebecca Mucchetti, chairwoman of the combined Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board, said the language of a town ordinance about the Aquifer Protection Agency was clear enough.
“It does not give authority to the Inland Wetlands Board,” Mucchetti said. “It gives it to the Planning and Zoning Commission in their capacity as the Inland Wetlands Board.”
The Conservation Commission had championed the separation of wetlands duties from planning and zoning, and conservation member Jack Kace spoke up in favor of having aquifer protection responsibilities go with the wetlands board.
“They’re interconnected,” Kace said. “... In our minds there’s no difference between Inland Wetlands Board and the Aquifer Protection Agency. They still need to protect our water.”
This was disputed by Planning and Zoning Commission member John Katz.
“Inland wetlands boards have not been appointed or thought of as a check and balance to planning and zoning,” he said.
Mucchetti said that Aquifer Protection Areas — or “wellhead protection areas” — are designed to “minimize potential contamination of the well field” with specific land use regulations.
“The regulation is focused on the use and discharge of hazardous materials,” she said.
Mucchetti said the research by the commission’s staff had found that of the 79 Connecticut towns with aquifer protection agencies, 63 of them shared duties with the Planning and Zoning Commission, while 12 were combined with Inland Wetlands Boards and four were part of Conservation Commissions or Water Pollution Control Authorities in their towns.
First Selectman Marconi said that threats to aquifers were wide-ranging — from old underground oil tanks at homes and businesses to the use of salt on roads in winter.
Charter Revision Commission chairman Jonathan Seem has said the five-member panel majority who’d voted to separate the two boards felt the aquifer protection tasks should go to the wetlands board.
The selectmen have said they’d try to have the discussion “in advance of the caucuses” in July that will nominate party slates for the November election, since they’ll be nominating people to run for the new separate Inland Wetlands Board, and also the Planning and Zoning Commission, and it might help people making those decisions to know which board will be handling aquifer protection.
Any change to the ordinance would likely be proposed by the selectmen, reviewed by the town attorneys, and put before voters at a town meeting — possibly the quarterly town meeting planned for June 19.