About the Conservation Commission
The Somerville Conservation Commission (Con Com) is devoted to preserving and protecting Somerville's natural environment. The Con Com administers and enforces the Wetlands Protection Act and River Protection Acts (MGL Chapter 131 Section 40), and has an important role in open space planning pursuant to its authority under the Conservation Commission Act MGL Chapter 40 Section 8c.
The Somerville Conservation Commission administers and enforces the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and River Protection Act, which includes reviewing and issuing permits for projects that are in, near or impact wetlands and riverfront areas. The Commission also initiated and oversees the City’s Community Garden Program as part of its mission to preserve and protect Somerville’s open spaces and natural environment.
Why Is Protecting Wetlands And Riverfront Areas Important?
Somerville residents and businesses benefit from the role these natural resources play in reducing impacts from flooding and storm damage, protecting riverfront property from erosion, absorbing pollutants, improving water quality, and providing habitat for fish. The role of wetlands, and floodplains in particular, as “storage” areas for excess water during storms will continue to grow in importance as the number and intensity of storms increase in the future. Projects that reduce this storage capacity can cause greater flooding elsewhere.
What Areas Are Protected By The Conservation Commission?
Generally speaking, the Commission has jurisdiction over riverfront areas and land areas that contain surface water all or part of the time. These protected areas are often referred to as “wetlands,” but the Commission’s jurisdiction includes:
✔ Activities within 25 feet of a river;
✔ Activities in or within 100 feet of a bank, wetland, beach, dune, flat, marsh or swamp bordering on any creek, river, stream, pond, or estuary;
✔ Activities on land under any creek, river, stream, estuary or ocean;
✔ Activities in land subject to flooding; and
✔ Activities in other areas that alter one of these protected areas.
There are many types of wetlands in Massachusetts. In Somerville, most protected wetlands and riverfront areas are near the Mystic River or Alewife Brook. The most common resources protected in Somerville are riverfront areas, inland banks, bordering vegetated wetlands, bordering land subject to flooding.
The technical definitions of various wetlands can be found in the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and its accompanying regulations, and for the most part are based on the occurrence of surface water and/or the abundance of specific wetland plants.
How Do You Know if Your Project Is in or Near a Protected Wetland or Riverfront Area?
Identifying the location of protected areas is important before proceeding with a project if you wish to develop, modify, or engage in construction on land that is near a protected wetland or river. Some protected areas are easier to identify than others, such as land within 25 feet of a river. For some protected areas, you can use common sense or existing maps to make an initial evaluation of whether the area might be protected. For example:
- If your project is in a relatively flat area that is near a creek, river, stream, or pond, the area may be subject to protection, particularly if the land has been inundated by floodwaters from these water bodies in the past.
- If part of your project will be in a 100-year floodplain, as shown on the National Flood Insurance Maps prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then the area may be subject to protection.
These types of evaluations are a starting point for identifying protected wetlands and riverfront areas but are not always definitive. Distinguishing other wetland areas may be more difficult and may require the services of trained botanists or wetlands consultants, who will charge for their services.
The Somerville Conservation Agent may be able to assist you in identifying protected areas in or near the vicinity of your project. You can begin by seeking an informal consultation with the Conservation Agent. You may also file an Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation, which triggers a more formal process in which the Conservation Commission will determine whether your identification of protected areas is accurate.
What Activities Are Regulated In Protected Areas?
A permit from the Somerville Conservation Commission is required to “remove, fill, dredge, or alter” most protected areas. According to the law, the term “alter” includes any destruction of vegetation, any change in drainage characteristics or flow patterns, or any change in the water table. Examples of activities that often require a permit include constructing a house, garage or shed, adding fill to enlarge a backyard, installing drainage ditches, adding new paved areas, and disposing of landscaping debris. Any permit issued by the Commission must protect the values of the protected areas; these values are identified in the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.
What Must You Do if You Want To Conduct a Regulated Activity in or Near a Protected Area?
Not all activity in or near a protected area requires permission from the Conservation Commission; some smaller projects and maintenance work are allowed if they meet certain standards. Exceptions for a permit are outlined in the regulations implementing whether your project needs a permit, you may submit a Request for Determination of Applicability and the Commission will determine whether your project or property is subject to the Wetlands Protection Act. Most regulated activities require the submission of a formal application, known as a Notice of Intent, to the Conservation Commission.
Before submitting a Notice of Intent, you may wish to contact the Somerville Conservation Agent, who can help you understand the law and application to your project. The Conservation Agent can also point you to important resources, such as the state regulations, which include specific standards that you should incorporate into your project design. You should be sure that your application includes all required information, and that notice of your application is appropriately given to the public and abutters. While the Conservation Agent can answer questions, it is your responsibility to make sure that the Notice of Intent and project design meet the applicable requirements.
What Are the Penalties for Violating These Laws?
Violations of the Wetlands Protection Act are punishable by a fine up to $25,000 per violation per day and up to two years of imprisonment. An illegal “alteration” of a protected area can be a separate violation each day, so fines can add up over time. In addition, landowners may be required to restore any illegally altered land to its original condition.
More detailed information about the permit application process is available from the Somerville Conservation Commission, and all of the Commission’s meetings are open to the public.
If you have any questions or concerns, you are welcome to call or visit the Conservation Agent at City Hall.
617-625-6600, ext. 2514
The Commission consists of 7 volunteers appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council who serve three-year terms or until another Commissioner is appointed:
- Michael Fager, Chair
- Aladdine Joroff
- Megan Kearns
- Cristina Kennedy
- Titania Ng
- Newton Tedder
- David Turin
If they deem it fit, the Commission also could potentially have non-appointed associate commissioners who participate in events and attend meetings in a non-voting capacity.
Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Commission now meet via virtual meeting software once per month, on the 4th Tuesday at 7 p.m. using the GotoWebinar platform. Please see agenda for meeting details, links to meetings, as well as links to meeting video recordings. The Commission does not usually meet in August nor December, although an exception may be made upon request. For more information, please contact Conservation Agent Malik Drayton: Email: MDrayton@SomervilleMA.gov Phone: 617-625-6600 x2514.
Click here to view Conservation Commission meeting agendas and minutes.
The Commission reviews and approves applications for activities that near the waterfront areas of Somerville including the Alewife Brook and the Mystic River. The Commission has jurisdiction over activities within 100 feet of a wetland, 25 feet of a river as well as activities outside those boundaries that impact the wetland resources. The Commission has authority to issue enforcement orders when activities violate the wetland and river protection laws. The Commission works closely with the Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development which provides a part-time Conservation Agent to assist with the Commission's mission. The Commission receives wetland permit fees to assist with the review of applications and can also hire consultants at the expense of applicants to assist with the review.
The Commission initiated and oversees the City's Community Garden program. The Commission helps establish new gardens, hires a city-wide garden coordinator and establishes policies for the gardens. Currently, the City has 11 active gardens. The Commission administers the Conservation Fund that can accept donations for the assistance with gardens and plantings in the City.
Open Space Planning
The Commission provides advice and support to OSPCD in open space planning efforts related to parks, community gardens, and other recreational areas within the City.
Environmental Review and Policies
The Commission, as warrants, provides advice and support to the City on a range of other environmental matters such as appropriate landscaping for new developments, storm water pollution education, biodiversity, and waterfront recreation. The Commission also reviews plans to maintain rights-of-way prepared by railroads and highway departments.
Notice of Intent
Anyone who plans to remove, fill, dredge, or alter a protected resource area, including a wetland, a buffer zone to a wetland, or a riverfront area, must file a Notice of Intent.
In order for the Somerville Conservation Commission (SCC) to effectively process your Notice of Intent filed under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act M.G.L. 131 s.40, the SCC requests that you submit eight (8) copies of the completed Notice of Intent application and (2) full-sized copies of plans to the SCC at 93 Highland Avenue, Somerville. In addition, send one (1) electronic copy of the notice of intent package (application and plans) to the Conservation Agent. Contact information for the Conservation Agent is located in the upper right-hand corner of this page.
The Conservation Commission will consider the Notice of Intent application at a public hearing, which will be scheduled during a regular Conservation Commission meeting (generally the 4th Tuesday of the month). Submit the completed NOI package (application and plans) and filing fees no more than 15 and no fewer than 10 business days prior to this hearing to provide timely placement of a Legal Notice of Public Hearing in the local paper (either the Somerville Times, the Somerville Journal, or the Boston Hearld). The applicant will be directly invoiced by the newspaper for the cost of the Legal Notice.
Filing Tips and Public Notices
- Common Resource areas in Somerville include:
- Bordering Vegetated Wetlands (BVW - rare in Somerville)
- Inland Bank
- Bordering Land Subject to Flooding (BLSF, 100-year floodplain)
- Riverfront Area (25 feet)
- Both Alewife Brook and Mystic River are fish runs
- Somerville is not subject to Wetlands Restriction Order (Page 7 of NOI) and does not have a local wetland by-law (as of 1-29-2009)
NOI Package Submission and Notification of Public
Submit the NOI package (application and plans) and filing fees no more than 20 and no fewer than 14 calendar days prior to the next public meeting of the Somerville Conservation Commission to provide timely placement of a Legal Notice of Public Hearing in one of the local papers (the Somerville Journal, the Somerville News, or the Boston Herald). The Commission will place the Legal Notice of Public Hearing in the newspaper, and the Applicant will be directly invoiced by the newspaper for the cost of posting.
Abutters within 100 feet of the property line must be notified of the public hearing on the Notice of Intent. Abutter Notification is the responsibility of the Applicant. A certified list of abutters is not required. Abutter notification certified mail receipts are to be supplied to the SCC prior to or at the opening of the Hearing.
After the Hearing (and any Appeal periods)
Record the Order of Conditions: Once an Order of Conditions has been issued and the ten day appeal period has expired with no appeal, the Applicant must record the Order of Conditions with the Middlesex South County Registry of Deeds, 208 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02140, ph: 617-494-4500, and must send a copy of the tear-off form with the Registry book and page marks to the SCC. The Applicant may then apply for a building permit and begin the project in accordance with the conditions of the SCC.
Certificate of Compliance: Upon completion of the project, the Applicant must send a written request to the SCC for a Certificate of Compliance (refer to the Order of Conditions for the form and procedures to be used). When applicable, include an as-built plan stamped and signed by a PLS and a written certification signed and stamped by a PE or Architect that the project has been completed in "substantial compliance" with the cited plans and with the Order of Conditions, and stating any deviations.
The Applicant's Certificate of Compliance must be recorded at the Middlesex County (South) Registry of Deeds and certification of recording sent to the SCC as required by the Wetlands Protection Act regulations.
- Applicant name- not just agency
- Property owner
- Project Description must be clear
- Project Impacts must be filled out completely (including work in 100-foot buffer zone from Bank and/or BVW). Check numbers against plans for consistency
- Appropriate sections of Areas Subject to Regulation and Performance Standards filled out completely (will vary with project)
- If limited project exemption is requested, check regulations for accuracy (310 CMR 10.53).
- NOI Form (Page 7) must include check number, date, and payer name (“Somerville Conservation Commission” for Cons. Comm. check)
- Be sure the application is signed by the entity responsible for the project; the signature of the consultant preparing the NOI is not generally sufficient
The following must accompany the application:
- Submit a check in the correct amount for Wetland Filing Fees payable to the SCC, with fee transmittal form (WPA Appendix B) attached (cities and towns are exempt from filing fees)
- Proof of payment to DEP lock box (copy of check)
- Abutters list (required for all projects except when MassHighway is the applicant)
- Affidavit of Service - Form that states that abutters were properly notified.
- Notification to Abutters - Sample of letter sent to abutters notifying them of project
- USGS map showing project location
- FEMA map showing project location
Project Plans must show:
- Existing conditions
- Proposed work
- Regulated resource area(s) boundaries - including BLSF, if present
- Buffer zone(s) boundaries
- Should be stamped and dated (stamp not required by DEP, but may be required by SCC)
- Scale (no greater than 50 scale)
- North arrow
- Title Block
Additionally, as applicable, submit:
- Any photographs related to this project which may show the affected resource areas.
- Documentation supporting compliance with MA DEP's Stormwater Management Policy and Stormwater Management Guidelines; including Stormwater Report and Stormwater Report Checklist.
- Details of drainage system, including oil separating catch basins, particle and oil separators, detention systems, outfalls, sewer connections, etc.
- The Commission may require payment of a fee in order to hire consultants to assist the commission review the filing.
Request for Determination of Applicability
If the applicant knows an NOI is required, there is no need to file a Request for Determination of Applicability, unless the applicant proposes work to piers or docks, or plans to dredge or fill land under water. A Determination of Applicability answers the question of whether the proposed project requires a Waterways (Chapter 91) license or other authorization to proceed. It is usually not necessary to submit a Request for Determination, since local and state review of NOIs and MEPA review of ENFs will determine if additional authorization is needed.
The Applicant may file a Request for Determination (RDA) with the Somerville Conservation Commission (SCC) and the state to find out whether an NOI is required, and whether additional authorizations are needed. If it is determined that an NOI is needed, the Applicant must then file an NOI, following the directions for filing NOIs, above.
No abutter notification is required when filing an RDA, but the applicant must meet SCC deadlines for a timely filing.
ANRADs and ORADs
An Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation (ANRAD) allows an applicant to confirm resource boundaries with the Conservation Commission. The Applicant provides information about the resource areas he/she has delineated and wishes to be confirmed. All procedures (e.g. abutter notification and advertised public hearing) and time periods are the same as for a Notice of Intent.
After review of the ANRAD, the commission issues order an Order of Resource Area Delineation (ORAD). The ORAD is used to confirm, modify, or deny a resource area boundary.
If an Applicant files a Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) and the Commission issues a Positive Determination (checking Box 1) indicating that the area is subject to the Wetlands Protection Act, the Applicant will then needs to file an ANRAD or an NOI.
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