Middlebury to create new conservation commission

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury is putting together its first-ever conservation commission, a five-person panel that will help inventory the town’s natural resources and provide input on the potential impacts of future development on the community’s waterways, wetlands and other environmental assets.
The town selectboard on June 27 unanimously agreed to green-light the commission, at the recommendation of Middlebury Town Planner Jennifer Murray. She spoke of how effective the conservation commissions in Williston and Jericho had been during her previous planning work with those two communities. Murray believes such a panel will help Middlebury tackle some tasks that she, the planning commission and development review board have been too busy to accomplish.
“There are at least three to four years of tasks backlogged that I’d like to see the group get busy on,” Murray said.
Those tasks, according to Murray, will include:
•  Work with the town planner to act as an advisory committee to the DRB, providing opinions on applications with potential impacts on protected natural resources in Middlebury.
•  Undertake inventories, studies and other projects as requested, for use by the planning commission and town planner in updating the town plan and regulations.
•  Provide community education and outreach on conservation issues as needed.
Murray has also prepared a five-year list of 14 “priority projects” that include:
•  Collaborating with the planning commission and a geographic information systems consultant to conduct viewshed mapping and create regulations to manage scenic resources.
•  Using the viewshed mapping results to create a solar siting map showing suitable and unsuitable locations for large-scale solar siting projects, for use by local planning officials to update the energy section of the town plan in 2018.
•  Collaborating with the Agency of Natural Resources to create a prioritized wildlife habitat map for Middlebury.
•  Creating an “open space plan” that will reflect map parcels currently under protection and a priority list of future properties to conserve.
•  Conducting wildlife tracking to confirm local wildlife travel corridors.
•  Creating management plans for town forests, with potential help from a Middlebury College intern.
The selectboard will appoint local citizens to the commission for terms that have yet to be decided. Murray will provide administrative leadership and support for the panel.
Middlebury is currently soliciting interest from prospective commission members. Ideally, they should have a background in ecology and/or natural sciences, according to Murray.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to cull a different part of the community,” she said of the desired skillset for the commission.
Anyone interested in serving should contact Murray at [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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