With 800 people at the afternoon hearing and 600 at the evening hearing on December 18, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation got a good indication of how upset local residents, town officials, legislators, builders, farmers and property owners are about the department's proposed changes to the state wetland regulations.
The standing-room only crowd, made up of people who braved a cold rain storm to get to the Lockport Farm and Home Center, clearly demonstrated their adamant opposition to the DEC's agenda.
U.S. Congressman William Paxon was present at the hearing to voice some of his concerns. "Across our state and across our country concerned, frustrated and angry citizens are speaking out with a united voice and their message is clear: the wetlands regulations are going too far," he said.
"Republicans and Democrats in Congress are already working together to change the federal wetlands rules -- regulations that were put in place without congressional consent." Paxon asked the state to immediately hold off on any new or tougher wetlands regulations.
"These regulations, as proposed by the DEC, would have a devastating impact not only on development, construction, and agriculture, but on the entire character of our communities," said State Assemblyman Thomas M. Reynolds.
State Assemblyman Matthew Murphy called for the DEC to "withdraw" the proposed changes because the department was attempting to usurp the authority of the State Legislature.
Included in DEC's proposed changes are a new wetlands definition which incorporates hydric soils and hydrology along with vegetation as wetlands determinants, and a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands. Neither of these changes are provided for in the Freshwater Wetlands Act passed by the State Legislature in 1975.
"The DEC is exercising power that has not been given to it by the Legislature," said David Brody, a local attorney. "Furthermore, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the DEC does not explain the need for these changes," he said.
Joseph D. Latona, Clarence town engineer told the DEC that the 75 percent of Clarence which would be affected by the proposed regulations, would face a loss in tax revenue of approximately $9 million because of the resulting decrease in assessed valuation.
Farmers and private property owners spoke to losing control of their land and their constitutional rights. Home builders spoke of the devastating affect these changes would have on housing affordability.
Jeffrey Palumbo, a local real estate attorney, said the effect of these change will be to effectively deny landowners the use of their property as it is reclassified as wetlands. "This means the price of remaining non-wetland property will rise tremendously, as will the price of all types of new housing," he said.
Only one person spoke in favor of the DEC proposals throughout both hearings. The DEC will be accepting further comments on these proposals through January 18. Comments should be addressed to: DEC Wetlands Program Manager Patricia Riexinger, 50 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12233.