Otter Creek wetlands class change altered after opposition


BRANDON — The steering committee that has been working to reclassify the Otter Creek wetlands from a Class II wetlands to a Class I wetlands announced this past week that they would be seeking to change the classification only for parcels of land that have willing landowners.

The move comes after the steering committee received some opposition from landowners at two public meetings in June, one at Cornwall and one at Salisbury.

“We have been very appreciative of the community’s engagement around this important topic,” a press release from the steering committee said. “With the public meeting discussions in mind, we considered differing ideas about how to approach the reclassification effort.”

“After a lengthy discussion, the committee has agreed to a compromise…”

The Otter Creek wetlands, which include the Cornwall swamp and the Leicester/Whiting swamp, consist of more than 15 linear miles from Cornwall to Brandon and about 15,550 acres. A total of 533 landowners, about 80 in Brandon, would be affected by changing the wetlands from Class II to Class I. Brandon has 2,600 acres of wetlands.

The committee members felt strongly that the Otter Creek Wetland Complex serves the functions of a Class I wetland, deserving a legal acknowledgement of all the community benefits it provides in the form of water quality, flood mitigation and wildlife habitat.

“Although we unanimously agreed that the entire complex is worthy of Class I recognition, we were concerned that, given the opposition of a number of landowners, the social cost of dividing the community over this issue would be too high to pursue this course at this time,” the press release stated.

Much of the allowed current use in a Class II wetland, such as agriculture and silviculture, would be allowed to continue as a Class I, but the buffer zone would have increased from 50 feet to 100 feet.

“After a lengthy discussion, the committee has agreed to a compromise which balances the irreplaceable function of the wetlands with the concerns voiced by some of the community members,” the press release said. “It is our hope that this effort to recognize the many public benefits of this ecologically rich wetland complex will spark useful public conversation about the role that natural lands play, regardless of ownership or legal designation, in supporting our everyday lives.”

In future meetings, the steering committee will be working on mapping areas that could be nominated as Class I wetlands, which will involve reaching out to landowners to determine their level of interest and support. The next meeting of the steering committee will be in mid-August.

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