DO YOU GET HELP WITH ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION?
received the following question and answered it more than a decade ago,
but the issue has universal application and is not restricted to a particular
time or region of the country. Such problems could, indeed do, arise
anywhere, any time.
I am a homeowner in a small town. A developer owns the woods, which
include several small wetlands, beyond my backyard. We understand the
developer wants to build houses in these woods, so how close can they
come to the wetlands? These woods are abundant in wildlife, many of
which depend on the wetlands. What can I and the other 75 homeowners
who oppose this development do?
The question is a tough one in several ways because the laws, restrictions
and regulations (or lack of regulations) for construction and development
vary so greatly across states and across communities within states.
As with many legal situations in which litigants on both sides feel
their position is the right one, getting a clear-cut answer about what
is legally protected and what is not will not be simple or straightforward.
confounding factor is a consequence of an unforgivable 5:4 decision
issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2001 about wetlands protection.
The ruling is considered by most wetlands biologists to have been based
on very poor judgment from a court that is supposed to be looking out
for the public's best interests (which should, many people think, include
environmental interests). Although the legal quagmire associated with
the ruling is complicated, the essence is that the court blocked the
Army Corps of Engineers from regulating, and therefore protecting, small,
isolated wetlands that are not associated with a navigable waterway
such as a lake, stream, or river. How to interpret the decision is still
being wrangled over in many states and at various governing levels,
and the environmental consequences have not yet completely unfolded.
Nonetheless, depending on what kind of wetland is in your woods (and
possibly upon who interprets what kind of wetland it is), some areas
may no longer be legally protected because they are considered to fall
under the Supreme Court's new view of isolated wetlands.
not being ahead in a game is certainly no reason to get discouraged
or stop trying, so here are some suggestions. I would first start by
contacting any federal or state agencies that you can reach (e.g., federal:
Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, Army Corps of
Engineers; state: Department of Natural Resources or its equivalent)
either through an agency's website, via email or by telephone. Write
letters to your local newspapers and shed a lot of light on the issue.
If you know others (apparently you know at least 75) who have a similar
opinion, encourage them to write also. Likewise, be sure your elected
officials at the local, state, and federal levels know of your concerns.
In your city, you have a town supervisor, who I assume functions like
a mayor. Make sure your local officials know that a solid segment of
their electorate is aware of the issue. This can sometimes be very effective.
are hard to advise about from afar, but the general principles are the
same everywhere - most people would like to keep their neighborhood
streams, woods, and other natural habitats intact, whereas a few would
like to make a profit by developing them. Such developers often live
somewhere else. Most people are interested in progress, and now is the
time to make some progress in support of the environment. The first
step is to make your community (including newspapers, the public, and
members of the local zoning board) aware of a burgeoning problem that
could lead to long-term environmental destruction in an area, while
leading to short-term profit for only a few. Bringing an issue into
the open is one of the strongest incentives I know of for maintaining
our progress in environmental protection.
you have an environmental question or comment, email