Nantucket Builders Association Questions Proposed Wetlands Regulations

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Folger's Marsh. Photo by Kit Noble |

An update to Nantucket’s wetland regulations proposed by the Conservation Commission would increase all mandatory setbacks by 25 feet for structures in wetland buffer zones and ban most pools in the extensive areas of the island subject to coastal flooding, among other alterations.

Those potential changes have prompted questions from the Nantucket Builders Association, which delivered a two-page letter to the Conservation Commission last week outlining the organization’s concerns about the update to the regulations.

In recent weeks, the Commission had signaled some willingness to allow certain pools elevated above the level of potential flooding, with Commissioner Linda Williams suggesting an outright ban would be “insane.”

“I just, I can’t go there at all,” she said.

Still, the Commission is poised to ban most pools in flood zones, as they could impede the flow of floodwater and potentially dump large amounts of toxic chemicals into the ocean during a flood event.

Under the new regulations, no-disturb zones would increase to 50 feet, and no new structures would be allowed within 75 feet of wetlands. Commissioners in favor of the policy argue it is a necessary step to bring the regulations in line with the current science, guarantee the long-term health of Nantucket’s wetlands, and to prepare the island for the effects of climate change.

“There’s wildlife impacts with the passage of wetland species, there’s flooding impacts, there’s cumulative development impacts,” Conservation Commission Vice-Chair Seth Engelbourg said. “I think the regulations we’ve put into place here are very good.”

Engelbourg cited an extensive body of scientific research supporting the increase in buffer zones and a corpus of policy precedent detailing how similar regulations have been enacted in areas across the country.

But the proposal has sparked some pushback, primarily from developers, who argue stricter rules could endanger their industry and the interests of property owners hoping to develop land near wetlands. The Nantucket Builder’s Association issued a statement last week urging the Commission to delay a vote on the proposal until the public has had more time to review the regulations.

“We are unclear on the impacts of the proposed changes, in large part because none of this has been presented or explained—to us as key stakeholders, or to the general public at large. There must be a greater effort undertaken for public outreach and more time dedicated for community review and feedback,” Nantucket Builder’s Association President Frank Daily wrote in the statement. “Our Board respectfully asks the Commission to defer a vote on these proposed changes so that all Nantucketers are allowed a greater opportunity to be informed, heard, and involved in the regulatory process.”

The Commission held a public hearing to discuss the revisions in June, but few members of the public attended.

The first change to the regulations since 2013, the update would also add a specific definition for impervious surfaces and multiple references to coastal resilience, as well as requiring annual mitigation plans for all coastal engineering projects—potentially due to the controversial Sconset Bluff geotube project.

All pre-existing structures would be exempted from the regulations, meaning no buildings that have already been constructed would be affected.

A majority of the Commission seems to support the recommendations, though Williams and Commissioner Mike Misurelli were critical of the increased buffer zones. The recent shakeup to the Commission’s membership by the Select Board, which ousted former Chair Ashley Erisman in favor of newcomer Tim Braine, could complicate efforts to finalize the proposal, as Braine has not been involved with drafting the updated regulations. However, even without Braine’s vote, the members of the Commission who support increasing buffer zones would still be a majority.

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