Town of Swampscott
Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,
On behalf of the Swampscott Conservation Commission, I am writing to express our support for the Swampscott Rail Trail and the warrant article to fund the design and engineering of the trail as well as the legal fees and costs for the acquisition of easement rights.
Swampscott’s Conservation Commission is established under the Conservation Commission Act (MGL Ch. 40 §8C) which was enacted in 1957 and which gives municipalities the authority to establish a conservation commission as the official agency specifically charged with the protection of the community’s natural
resources. Conservation Commissions play an important role in municipal open space planning, acquisition, and management. In fact, this was their primary role from the time commissions were created in 1957 until they began administering the Wetlands Protection Act in 1972. The first powers given to commissions focused on “promotion and development of natural resources…and protection of watershed resources.”
As the municipal focal point for environmental protection, conservation commissions were given responsibility in 1972 for administering the Wetlands Protection Act (MGL Ch. 131 §40). Since that time commissions have served their communities in a regulatory as well as a planning capacity. Under this law, commissions across the state process thousands of applications every year for permits to do work in and near wetland resource areas.
Like the Open Space & Recreation Plan Committee, which has as one of its specific objectives the creation of Green Corridor through Town, including a trail on the old railway bed, we believe the addition of accessible open space is paramount to making Swampscott a better place to live. The Rail Trail is an essential part of the 2013 Open Space & Recreation Plan goal of a “Green Corridor system” ‐‐ a corridor system that will connect open spaces, including conservation land, through existing streets and trails in Town. The various open spaces and recreation fields are best served, as the 2013 Open Space & Recreation Plan points out, when they are easily connected. Having the Rail Trail as the “backbone” of such a Green Corridor will provide recreational walker and bicyclists, with safe connection to the Town’s open spaces, recreation facilities, and beaches. Such a network will also encourage wildlife passage through the region.
As certain abutters to the proposed Rail Trail corridor have raised concerns over adverse effects to wetlands near the trail both at a recent Conservation Commission meeting and through emails and letters, it may be helpful to clarify the role of the Commission under the Wetlands Protection Act for any project, including the creation of a Rail Trail. The process is not, as has been implied, for the Commission to first do a site visit, delineate wetlands, or make any determinations regarding the project under the Wetlands Protection Act prior to receiving a request (including the necessary documentation and studies) from the applicant, in this case, the Town.
Rather, it is the applicant obligation to file a Notice of Intent, which is basically an application for a permit (termed an Order of Conditions) to perform work in or affecting a protected wetland resource area. (In some cases, an applicant may submit a Request for a Determination of Applicability to see if the Commission has jurisdiction, but it is extremely likely, given the proximity of wetland resources in the area, the applicant will go directly to submitting a Notice of Intent.)
The purpose of a Notice of Intent is to provide the Conservation Commission, as well as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, with a complete and accurate description of the site, including the type and boundaries of the areas subject to protection (the wetland resource areas), and the proposed work, including all measures proposed to meet the performance standards for each wetland area. It is the obligation of the applicant to provide this information to Commission, not the other way around. In the case of the Rail Trail, this information would be provided in the design and engineering plans for the trail which is contemplated under the warrant article.
The Conservation Commission believes that creation of a Rail Trail in Swampscott will enhance outdoor recreational and nature educational opportunities for children and adults, while building community support for open space and land conservation.
Tom Ruskin, Chair
Jennifer Simon Lento
Original Letter, May 10, 2017