Brandon OKs Des Marais wetland restoration plan
BRANDON — A floodplain restoration project has been approved by the Brandon Development Review Board, with conditions designed to address flooding concerns by abutting landowners.
The DRB issued its decision on Sept. 23, two months after the initial hearing on the application by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and property owners Jim and Lyn Des Marais. Since then, the board has conducted a site visit, then re-opened and closed the hearing on Sept. 24.
The Des Marais’ worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetland Restoration Program to conserve almost 500 acres of their 1,250-acre farm on Union Street over the summer, the largest conservation easement in Vermont. The conditional use permit will allow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to go into two parcels on the former Dean Farm within that easement along the Otter Creek and to restore the wetland habitat on a floodplain, which will include installing ditch plugs and removal of berms and depressions. Almost five acres of native trees and shrubs will also be planted.
Abutting property owners Kjell Thompson, Missy Thompson, Nancy Jakiela and others testified that they feared the project would not work as intended and result in increased flooding on their land.
The land in question floods regularly every spring. Officials for U.S. Fish and Wildlife guaranteed that water levels would not rise because of the wetland project, but landowners were unconvinced.
An increase in an already well-established mosquito problem was also a concern, not only of neighboring property owners but also of the Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen Insect Control District Board. Dr. Ben Lawton, chair of that board, testified before the DRB that the BLSG has always been able to do mosquito sampling on the farm, which is certified organic, and hoped it would continue. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said the ultimate goal of the project was to introduce natural predators of mosquitoes such as fish and other amphibians, thus reducing the mosquito population.
In its decision, the DRB issued the following statement:
“The Board finds that this land is already a wetland and mosquitoes are present now and will continue to be present, and that flooding occurs now and will continue to occur whether this project is approved or not. The Board finds that the project would not involve changing the elevation of the land on the two parcels. The project is unlikely to raise the water level on adjacent properties or impede the flow of water off the land as has happened in the past. However, the possibility that the project could cause higher water on adjacent properties in the future cannot be ruled out with total certainty. The Board considered requiring test holes but due to the current dry weather conditions an assessment of conditions during more normal or even wetter seasons cannot be made at this time.
“The project is intended to reduce the mosquito population naturally. The BLSG Insect Control District has done a good job controlling the mosquito population in the past with help from the state of Vermont and local landowners.”
The DRB gave approval with the following conditions:
• Prior to the permit being issued, a signed agreement between the NRCS, State Fish and Wildlife Department and BLSG Insect Control District regarding monitoring and treating mosquitoes at the project site must be submitted to the Brandon zoning administrator.
• The project cannot increase the water level on any contiguous properties.
• If adjoining property owners feel in the future that their land has been made wetter as a result of this project and brings that concern to the NRCS or other appropriate federal agency or department with information regarding where they believe the water is coming from, the appropriate federal agency or department will bring in professional hydrologists or other appropriate professionals to address the situation. The appropriate federal agency or department shall make a good faith effort to resolve the problem.
• Prior to the permit being issued, the applicant will submit to the Brandon zoning administrator a list of all involved agencies or departments with pertinent details specifying department name, contact information, and the responsibility of each department to the project. The applicant will also send the information to all adjoining landowners of this parcel and all interested parties with a statement attesting as to why they are receiving the list.