Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Conservation Commission and what does it do?

How often does the Commission meet and where?

How do I contact the Commission?

What are wetlands?

What are other protected resource areas?

Why do we bother protecting wetlands and other resource areas?

What is the difference between the State Wetlands Protection Act and the Local Wetlands Protection Bylaw?

How do I know if there are wetlands on my property?

Can I cut down trees in the buffer zone and wetland?

Can I dump my yard waste in the wetland?

What types of activities are authorized without a permit?

If my project requires a permit, what form do I file and how long will the process take?

Are there permit fees?

I received an Abutter Notification, what does it mean?

What will take place at the hearing?

How does one obtain a certificate of compliance?

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What is the Conservation Commission and what does it do?

The Conservation Commission, often referred to as the ConComm, is a 7 member volunteer board of Belchertown residents appointed by the Board of Selectman. Their job is to administer the State Wetland Protection Act (WPA) and the Belchertown Wetland Bylaw in order to protect wetland resource areas.

How often does the Commission meet and where?

Generally the commission meets the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month in the Conservation Office located on the first floor (room 101) of town hall. Check the If a meeting is expected to be full it may take place in the auditorium of town hall.

How do I contact the Commission?

The conservation office can be contacted by e-mail at conservation@belchertown.org, by phone at 413-323-0405, or by stopping in the office (room 101 in town hall).

What are wetlands?

Wetlands are land areas that contain surface water all or part of the time, as well as some adjacent land areas. Legally the term includes not only areas we typically think of as wetlands, such as marshes, swamps, bogs, and wet meadows; but also intermittent streams, floodplains, and other areas that may be dry for a significant portion of the year. The WPA specifically regulates activities in or near these areas. The most commonly regulated wetlands are bordering vegetated wetlands (BVWs), which are wetlands that share a border with a stream, pond or lake. [excerpted from MACC FAQ]

What are other protected resource areas?

            All of the protected resource areas include:

  • any freshwater Wetland, over 5,000 ft.2 in size, as determined by vegetational community, soil composition, and/or hydrologic regime, including Isolated Wetlands, and any marsh, wet meadow, bog or swamp;
  • any pond, lake, river, any Perennial or Intermittent Stream;
  • any land under such waters;
  • any bank or beach;
  • any land subject to flooding or inundation by groundwater, surface water, storm flowage;
  • any Ephemeral Pools, Vernal Pools;

 

  • or within 100 feet of the above Resource Areas, an area known as the BUFFER ZONE to the Resource Areas.

 

  • any Bordering Land Subject to Flooding
  • Riverfront Area, because the State has established a 200 ft. setback on each side of a perennial stream, river or brook, the Commission recognizes the need to protect this area. For the purpose of administrating these regulations, the Commission has adopted the States definition and jurisdiction of the Riverfront Area.

 

Why do we bother protecting wetlands and other resource areas?

Wetlands play vital roles in ensuring the integrity of our landscape. In particular, the WPA and Belchertown Wetlands Bylaw seek to protect key values provided by wetlands. These include:

  • Protection of public and private water supply
  • Protection of groundwater and groundwater quality
  • Protection of surface water and surface water quality
  • Flood control
  • Storm drainage prevention
  • Prevention of pollution
  • Protection of fisheries
  • Protection of wildlife habitat
  • Erosion and sedimentation control
  • Storm drainage
  • Protection of agriculture and forestry
  • Protection of aquaculture
  • Recreation
  • Preservation of open space

 

What is the difference between the State Wetlands Protection Act and the Local Wetlands Protection Bylaw?

These regulations differ in that the Bylaw is stricter in regards to the interests of Belchertown and its residents.

How do I know if there are wetlands on my property?

The Conservation dept. can help assess the resources on or near your property using mapping or by doing a site visit. While it is not the Conservation dept.’s responsibility to do a full delineation of your property, they can head you in the right direction and also provide local environmental consultants who can do a full delineation.

Can I cut down trees in the buffer zone and wetland?

Contact the conservation dept. to discuss this project. Tree clearing may alter the vegetation or soil structure which would require a permit. If a dead or dying tree acts as a safety risk to people or property, we may decide to issue an emergency certificate.

What types of activities are authorized without a permit?

There are certain activities that are considered “minor exempt activities” within the 100 ft buffer zone that do not require a permit. To see if your project falls under this description, please contact the conservation department to discuss.

If my project requires a permit, what form do I file and how long will the process take?

In most cases, an applicant will either file a Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) to see if their project will have an impact on the aforementioned jurisdictional resource areas, or a Notice of Intent (NOI) for more complex projects often involving direct alteration of a resource area. Sometimes this distinction can be confusing, so please do not hesitate to contact the Conservation dept. to discuss. An applicant can expect a negative determination from a Request for Determination of Applicability (meaning they can move forward with their project) if:

  • No alteration of a Wetland Resource Area
  • Less than 2,500 sq. ft. of alteration in the Buffer Zone
  • No work will occur within 50’ of a Wetland Resource Area.
  • The slope within the buffer zone must be no steeper than 15% (6.7 to 1 slope)
  • Not in the Buffer of Endangered Species Habitat
  • A plan is included for permanent stabilization-including loaming, seeding, and mulching

The timeline can vary depending on the nuances of the project. Contact the conservation dept. to discuss.

Are there permit fees?

There are fees associated with filing a Notice of Intent under the State Wetland Protection Act. These can be found by examining the associated regulations. For the town of Belchertown, the only additional filing fee would be a 50$ fee for an RDA for any work on any lot other than a single family lot.

I received an Abutter Notification, what does it mean?

This means that a neighbor of yours, within 100 ft of your property, is seeking a permit to do work on or near a wetland resource area. It is up to you to stay abreast of the project and when it will be presented to the Conservation Commission. If you are unsure, just contact the conservation dept.

What will take place at the hearing?

The hearing is when an applicant or representative can present their project to the conservation commission. The commissioners will be able to ask questions and potentially suggest alternatives. Afterwards, the public is invited to address any concerns regarding the project.

How does one obtain a certificate of compliance?

A certificate of compliance (CoC) can be obtained after the conservation dept. has received an official request (WPA form 8a) from the applicant or their representatives. Sometimes an Order of Conditions will require additional information such as an as-built plan or a letter from a wetland scientist. If you are unsure, examine your order of conditions and contact the Conservation dept. The request and additional documents will be examined and discussed at the next Conservation Commission hearing to determine if the conditions of the project has been met and if a CoC is granted.

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