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Nahant Town Meeting will take another run at wetland

NAHANT — Voters will gather at Nahant Town Hall for a Special Town Meeting on Sept. 17, but so far, there’s nothing on the warrant.

It is expected that at the meeting, residents will revisit a proposed bylaw that would change the permitting process for projects within the town’s wetlands, as was discussed at the last Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday. But, the article has not yet been placed on the warrant, said interim Town Administrator Gerry Perry, who declined to provide the documents that were discussed.

“It is in draft form,” he said Tuesday.

There are expected to be two other articles for residents to take up in the town meeting, he said.

Selectman Enzo Barile, who has led efforts to remap the town’s flood plains with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said at least 40 percent of the town is considered conservation land.

While the town already follows the Wetlands Protection Act, most cities and towns have additional wetlands protections in their bylaws, said Barile.

“We don’t and we’re surrounded by water,” he said.

The article was first proposed for the annual meeting, but indefinitely postponed in order to iron out the details.

According to a document outlining the zoning bylaw amendments that were originally proposed, the purpose of the zoning bylaw was “to protect the wetlands, water resources, and adjoining land areas in Nahant by controlling activities deemed by the Board of Appeals likely to have a significant or cumulative effect on resource area values.”

The amendments, which were presented to Town Meeting, would have required permits to remove, fill, dredge, build on, degrade, discharge into and otherwise alter any freshwater or coastal wetlands.

The bylaw would also cover marshes, wet meadows, bogs, swamps, vernal pools, banks, reservoirs, lakes, ponds, quarry pits, rivers, streams, creeks, beaches, dunes, estuaries, the ocean, land under water bodies, land subject to flooding by groundwater or surface water, land subject to tidal action and all land within 100 feet of any of these features.

Residents who live within the zoning area would be required to apply for permits with the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Conservation Commission before completing projects.

“It’s duplicative in my opinion,” said Conservation Commission member Kristin Kent. “Right now, we can’t get people to file for permits. Adding a second filing requirement isn’t going to help. I do support us doing a wetlands bylaw, but a non-zoning bylaw.”

The Planning Board made a recommendation for Town Meeting to support the article, but Vice Chairman Cal Hastings said he wasn’t happy about vouching for something that he believes is missing several elements. The panel was not able to amend the language, but could have referred it back to the Board of Selectmen, where it originated, for the changes to be made, he said.

Town Meeting ultimately postponed the article indefinitely. The biggest change to the document since it last appeared before Town Meeting is that it is no longer a zoning bylaw, which means proponents who are denied by the Conservation Commission can no longer appeal the decision at the state level. Instead, they will need to go to land court, said Barile.

During the Citizen’s Forum of the meeting, residents stated their cases for wanting a Special Town Meeting in August, while a few others argued that too many people would be away on vacation and not present to cast their vote.

Mark Cullinan, former town administrator and member of the Northeastern University Liaison Committee, pushed for the board to call the meeting sooner rather than later.

“As soon as procedurally possible would be my recommendation,” he said. “The town’s wetlands are our first level of defense.”

Perry urged the selectmen to choose a later date because the documents are not in perfect condition yet.

“We have to be careful not to rush this and make a mistake,” he said. “It’s still in draft form. It’s still being worked on. I’m still concerned, as your town administrator, that there could be mistakes. The attorney worked on this, unfortunately is resigning. I just found that out yesterday. I read it for the fourth time today and there are still some issues in my opinion.”

Selectmen are expected to vote on whether to insert the article into the warrant at a meeting on Aug. 8, said Perry.

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