The City Council took a major step toward protecting its wetlands and water resources this week by approving the Conservation Commission’s Wetlands Protection ordinance. In a memo to the council, Isaac Slavitt, chairman of the Malden Conservation Commission (ConCom), explained that establishing a rational, reasonable and publicly posted system of fines and enforcement procedures (Section XIII) gives the City of Malden a much more comprehensive set of self-help tools for dealing with parties who have apparently run afoul of conservation laws and regulations. It may also allow some of the physical inspections, case file management and communication overhead to be delegated to professional code enforcement officers duly appointed by the City for such matters, which is especially relevant in Malden given that our ConCom meets relatively infrequently.
Slavitt acknowledged the Conservation Commission will need more funding and resources to enforce the ordinance. If the City adopts a bylaw, the sense of the ConCom is that it will need the City Engineering Department to agree to designate one of their employees at least 25% of the time to ConCom duties. Additionally, the ConCom will need a modest budget for ongoing training and such limited materials or services as may be necessary. This budget can likely be supplied by setting up a revolving account in which application fees paid under the bylaw are deposited solely for ConCom use. This is a common practice in other cities, and it is specifically endorsed by reference. However, the new ordinance may be self-sustaining since the commission has set a fine of $500 for each offense.
As Slavitt explained, the new ordinance will protect the city’s wetlands and residents who need clear and reasonable rules when it comes to use of the city’s water resources. “As an urban city which industrialized early, the City of Malden receives fewer permits regarding undeveloped land than many suburban and rural communities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At the same time, we act as stewards of the historically neglected Malden River which carries with it an important duty of care for environmental protection and public access under reference. Malden therefore has certain unique concerns which bear specific explication,” wrote Slavitt in the memo.
“Currently, a citizen who wanted to know which areas were specifically subject to ConCom oversight would have to piece together numerous sources in Massachusetts General Laws, Code of Massachusetts Regulations, Department of Environmental Protection publications, and a significant body of pertinent and shifting case law decided in other communities. The draft bylaw would make our rules and regulations more legible and actionable for concerned parties by clearly stating relevant areas of jurisdiction (Section II) and definitions (Section XII) relevant to the City of Malden. Similarly, it would help minimize the sort of ‘plausible deniability’ often invoked by parties who run afoul of applicable laws and regulations,” he added.