Ashby Conservation Commission Annual Report

The duties and responsibilities of a Conservation Commission are spelled out in the Conservation Commission Act (HB chapter 18.9). Under this Act a municipal Conservation Commission is the official agency specifically charged with the protection of a community’s natural resources. Some of the first powers granted to Commissions in 1957 were the planning, acquiring and managing of open space and encouraging and monitoring conservation and agricultural preservation restrictions.

In 1972, Conservation Commissions were given the responsibility for administering the Wetlands Protection Act (Mass General Law Chapt.131 Paragraph 40). The Wetlands Protection Act is described in HB Chapter 12 and the text printed in HB 18.34. You can read these for yourself at: http://www.state.ma.us/legis/laws/mgl/gl-131-toc.htm

Wetlands are an important resource to Ashby. They protect, filter and provide the high quality of drinking water in our wells. They support fish in our streams and ponds. They provide the habitat and food sources for the birds and animals that make Ashby a unique place to live. And, they keep large tracts of land open and undeveloped so that our children and grandchildren might also experience the quality of life that we enjoy in Ashby.

In a continuing effort to protect the wetlands and administer the Wetlands Protection Act, the Commission has accomplished a number of things over the course of the last year that you may or may not be aware of.

This was the first year in over 25 years that the Conservation Commission in the name of the Town of Ashby has accepted a gift of Conservation Land. Mr. & Mrs. Morrison of Fitchburg donated the property. It is 2 acres that contains some of the headwaters to the Souhegan River. A Conservation Restriction was placed on the property and it was given to the Ashby Land Trust for monitoring. Plans for the property include the creation of a short wetlands education trail ending in a small boardwalk into the sphagnum moss swamp at the back of the property.

We assisted landowners and prospective buyers in identifying existing wetlands on their property that are protected by the Wetlands Protection Act.

Over 73 site visits were conducted. Many of the site walks were an informal response to landowner questions about what they can do on their land and what might be considered a protectable wetland. The Commission is eager to assist landowners in their decisions about whether and how to proceed with a building project near wetlands.

Thirteen Determinations of Applicability were issued. This is a formal response to a request to determine whether or not a project is required to make a filing under the Wetlands Protection Act.

The commission assisted builders in planning and completing their projects while protecting Ashby Wetland resources.

Twenty-three hearings were held for Notices of Intent to work within a resource area or its buffer zone.

Twenty-three Orders of Condition outlining how the projects are to be conducted to minimize their impact upon our wetlands were issued.

Orders of Conditions are recorded on the deeds of these properties. During the year only five requests were made for similar Conditions to be removed from deeds because the projects were completed according to plan. The Commission would like to remind property owners that Orders of Condition are valid for only three years. After that time, they may be extended, if a request is made in writing. Or, if the project is complete, the commission will issue a Certificate of Compliance to allow the landowner to have the Order removed from their deed.

The Commission has responded to calls for emergency actions from residents. One new Enforcement Order was issued in response to a report of a wetland violation - filling, dredging or altering a wetland without a valid Order of Conditions. The Commission’s intent to pursue legal action and impose stiff fines for one of two outstanding Enforcement Orders persuaded the landowner to correct the violations.

The responsibility of the Commission, as spelled out in the Conservation Commission Act (HB 18.9) is to protect the community's natural resources. In that effort, the Commission has worked with the following Boards and Offices within the Town and out of Town on conservation issues over the past year:

  • Ashby Highway Department - to plan road resurfacing in sensitive wetland areas and repair drainage culverts that allow wetlands to pass under roadways without damage to either the wetland or the road.

    Board of Health - to certify wetlands boundaries that might impact proposed new septic systems or replacement systems

    Board of Health - to plan and monitor work at the sanitary landfill and plans for the cap.

    Planning Board - to suggest and/or review revisions to zoning regulations

    Planning Board - to lay the groundwork for an Open Space Committee

    Board of Assessors - to identify State, Town and Chapter 61 lands on the Assessor Maps. The Assessors have also provided invaluable assistance in setting up mapping software on the Commission’s new computer.

    Building Inspector - to enforce building code violations and monitor for wetlands violations

    Board of Selectmen - to consult on issues of open space acquisition and planning

    Earth Removal Board - to participate as a member in the resolution of issues and disputes

    Ashby State Park – Review of proposed projects and extension of existing permits.

    Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife – Assist in the acquisition of properties to enlarge the existing area of protected lands in Ashby.

    Montachusett Regional Planning Commission – participation in the Greater Gardner Sustainable Growth Committee.

    Nashua River Watershed Association – meetings of area Conservation Commission members for sharing of resources, ideas and programs.

  • An Open Space Plan is an inventory the town's natural resources along with relevant maps and plans for future growth and open space acquisition. It will be a map for the future growth of the town. It is the document that identifies some of the more important pieces of land for recreation, wildlife and wetlands resources, all of which are vital for the preservation of the country character of the town and the quality of life that it provides for its residents.

    An Open Space Plan is a requirement for eligibility for State Self-Help Funding (HB 8.1, 8.2) for open space acquisition by the town. The Conservation Commission in joint effort with the Planning Board has established an Open Space Committee for the express purpose of producing an Open Space Plan for the Town of Ashby. In a matter of 60 days, the Committee researched and wrote the first draft of the Ashby Open Space and Recreation Plan. It was submitted to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) Division of Conservation Services and accepted with a letter of commendation for a job well done.

    Three active sub-committees of the Open Space Committee have been formed. They are: Education Committee, Chapter 61 Committee and Writing and Presentation Committee. They are working together to complete and publish the Open Space and Recreation Plan, make the citizens of Ashby aware of Open Space, and create a variety of informational materials for presentation of the plan at the Annual Town Meeting in May 2000.

    You may have noticed flyers for hikes through the town. Co-sponsored by the Ashby Conservation Commission, the Open Space Committee and the Ashby Land Trust, these hikes are designed to allow the citizens of Ashby to experience some of Ashby’s Open Spaces first hand. Landowners have graciously given permission for this group to hike across their lands. A high percentage of the lands State owned or in the Chapter 61 programs. The landowners incur no liability during these hikes since there are no fees charged for participation.

    The members of the Open Space Committee are: Chris Allen, Tony Batista, Bob Bedard, Lynette Courtney, Alan Ewald, Roberta Flashman, Janet Flinkstrom, Al Futterman, Ann Hayes, Bob Higgins-Steele, Claire Lavin, Bob Leary, Jeanie Lindquist, Martha Morgan, Paula Packard, Alan Pease, Julie Roberts, Derek Saari, Michael Somers, Jim Stacy, Linda Stacy, Wayne Stacy, Dondi Tomkinson.

    The Commission acquired a computer this year. The Commissioners now have all forms for administering the Wetlands Protection Act on the Computer. We are also collecting all Orders of Conditions for the past several years from Commissioner’s home computers, past and present. Eventually, we hope to have all of our files entered into the computer for easier access, greater accuracy and better administration of projects.

    The computer has also provided the Commission with easy access to maps of the town. These tools have been invaluable in creating the maps required for the Open Space and Recreation Plan. They have also been key to planning and mapping the hikes – using the GIS mapping layers and Assessor Parcel Maps. Stop by the town hall and view the 6x6 map of Ashby that we created – Assessor’s parcel map overlaid on the USGS Topographic map. It’s impressive.

    The Commission has maintained a membership in the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions for over 13 years. The Commissioners have attended educational workshops sponsored by MACC in Wetlands Protections, Plant and Soil Identification, Wetland Replication Techniques, Open Space Protection, and a variety of workshops offered at the annual conference in Worcester. Two of the Commissioners, Bob Leary and Janet Flinkstrom, have now completed the certification-training course for Conservation Commissioners.

    Commission members are also active in the Nashua River Watershed Conservation Commission Alliance, the Nashua River Watershed Land Trust Alliance, the Ashby Land Trust, and the Open Space Committee.

    There are currently 5 Conservation Commissioners. They serve for a 3-year term. They are:

    Roberta Flashman - Chair - Commission expires in 2001.

    Robert Leary - Vice Chair - Commission expires in 2000.

    Robert Bertram - Treasurer - Commission expires in 2001.

    Janet Flinkstrom - Secretary - Commission expires in 2000.

    Paula Packard - Commission expires in 2002.

    This year was the first year that the Commission enlisted the aid of Associate Members. There are currently 5 Associate Members of the Conservation Commission. They are:

    Jim Stacy

    Tom Mikes

    Ollie Mutch

    Jane Mutch

    Dondi Tomkinson

    This year the Commission would like to increase the number of Commissioners to seven. We will be working with the Board of Selectmen to accomplish this expansion. This will assist in the administration of the wetlands Protection Act as will as in the increased responsibilities that the Commission is assuming with an active Open Space and Recreation Plan and the acquisition and maintenance of Open Space. If you are interesting in becoming a Commissioner assisting the Commission or Open Space Committee in their tasks, please call one of the above members.