The Saugus Conservation Commission

298 Central Street
Saugus, Massachusetts 01906

What is and is not allowed in a wetland?

The general rule for wetlands is "no alteration". Our yards may be high-maintenance, with lawns that need frequent cutting and hedges that need pruning. With wetlands the approach is hands-off.

In a wetland, the aim is to maintain the healthy functioning of plant and wildlife communities. Disturbing the soil (so that it may erode), dumping grass clippings, brush, & leaves (that smother plants), and clearing natural vegetation are prohibited. Putting up buildings is not allowed. In a floodplain, the aim is to maintain the ability of the land to receive and hold flood waters, so filling is prohibited without a permit from the Conservation Commission. It is also bad practice to store materials in a floodplain; in a flood they are apt to be swept away, at a loss to their owner and with potential damage to water quality and downstream property.

The Conservation Commission has the authority to regulate activities in wetlands. It also has jurisdiction in the "buffer zone" of upland that is within 100 feet of the border of the wetland resource area. (See the guide to identifying wetlands.) The buffer zone gives the Commission the ability to require that steps be taken to minimize the threat of adverse wetland impacts when construction of the upland takes place.

If the buffer zone activity you plan is relatively minor and will not result in damage or alteration to the wetland resource area -- cutting a tree or installing a fence near the wetland border -- you need only to contact the Conservation Commission office in the Town Hall. The Commission can look over the planned work and will likely be able to issue an approval in the form of a letter with little delay.

If your activity is more extensive
installing an addition in the buffer zone, installing a driveway at the edge of a wetland -- you will need to follow a more formal procedure that can involve hiring a surveyor, an engineer, or perhaps a botanist; filing a Request for Determination of Applicability (of wetland or flood plain regulations); filing a Notice of Intent; and appearing (in person or through a representative) before the Commission at a public meeting. The Commission may issue an Order of Conditions that spells out procedures during construction. Once work is completed in accordance with the terms of the Order, you apply for and receive a Certificate of Compliance. These last two documents are filed in public records at the Essex County Registry of Deeds in Salem. In the event of disagreement with a finding of the Commission under the Wetlands Protection Act, appeal is available to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Though regulations prohibit filling and other activity in a wetlands resource area, some flexibility is available in unusual circumstances, subject to stringent requirements. Driveways, for instance, can be allowed through wetlands or floodplains where no other legal access to an owner's upland is available. In such cases, the project design must be environmentally sensitive, and compensatory flood storage and wetland replacement are required so that no net loss of either of these resource areas occurs.