David G. Adams, president of the New York State Association of Realtors, voiced concerns about the proposed expanded wetlands regulations being considered by EnCon and called for a comprehensive review of existing policies by the state legislature.
In a letter to state legislators, NYSAR noted the time is right to overhaul the system to reduce the unfair financial burden it imposes on private property owners.
Adams said, "We support the wetlands mission but not EnCon's methods. The current regulations go beyond protecting wetlands, preventing environmentally sound development by subjecting proposals to endless review, rewriting, rereview and re-rewriting."
"There is as much as a three to five year time period for processing permits by EnCon. During this time, when no decision has been made, owners face enormous financial burdens for engineering and related expenses. Too often the result is the total erosion of any economic viability for a project before EnCon gets around to making a decision."
"Now, in the face of these problems, EnCon seeks to reduce the 12.4 acre jurisdictional threshold, expand the definition of 'unusual local importance,' increase protective zones on wetland boundaries from 100 to 500 feet and impose a 'no-net loss' policy. All of this would be done without any participation or consideration by the state legislature."
Adams continued, "From the perspective of property owners, the current system suffers from its inability to provide definitive answers in a timely fashion. Delays are costly and often prohibitively so."
"It's time for EnCon to reassess the system, particularly in light of reports that the Department is seeing to 'rollback its legal responsibilities' as part of the effort to eliminate the state's billion dollar deficit. We believe the legislature should play a lead role in saving the wetlands baby while changing the murky regulatory bathwater."
Adams noted that the Department conducted two local hearings in Western New York on December 17 and 18, but that there have been inadequate opportunities for public participation. He is encouraging key legislators to step into the process and expand efforts for involvement by affected property owners, representatives of the housing industry and environmental experts.
Adams concluded, "Realistically, it is difficult to believe that given current fiscal constraints EnCon could actually deliver an effective program of wetlands protection under these proposed regulations.
While it proceeds with its efforts to do so, the Department is being asked by the Governor to devise a plan to cut its budget by as much as 15 percent. We trust Commissioner Jorling will proceed cautiously and will welcome the opportunity to receive input from the legislature and the public."