Erin Jacque: Weakened conservation commissions put cities and towns at risk 

Published: 08-07-2023 1:17 PM

This summer the Pioneer Valley has seen the impacts of climate change in the form of significant amounts of precipitation. Wet conditions have impacted infrastructure like roads, and culverts, and has overwhelmed stormwater systems causing flooding in many towns throughout the Connecticut River Valley. As we face increased risks of flashy non-stop storms, juxtaposed to critical and significant drought conditions of years past, the importance of our towns’ local conservation commissions become more and more important to our communities.

In Shutesbury we have recently seen the Select Board try to override the Conservations Commission’s statutory responsibilities by ordering them not to approve regulations that they drafted under the authority of our town’s own bylaws. These regulations aim protect the town’s natural resources and wetlands to a greater degree than state law already does. The Select Board is also trying to control and limit access of the Conservation Commission to legal counsel. Access to legal counsel protects towns and commissions from costly regulatory appeals and law suits.

This type of meddling by the Select Board is something voters should be paying careful attention to. The Conservation Commission is an independently appointed body with authority to administer and enforce state and local wetlands laws for the protection of all residents. These laws aim to protect public and private drinking water supplies, protect groundwater, address flood control, prevent storm damage, prevent pollution, protect fisheries and wildlife habitat. Without a strong and independent Conservation Commission, the natural resources that sustain our communities and lives are at risk.

Weakened conservation commissions put cities and towns at risk of flooding, stormwater damage, contamination of our essential water supplies, and damage to our environment. It is easy with all of our personal responsibilities to not pay attention to what is happening in local town government. It is easy to ignore dangerous decisions that put us all at risk. Shutesbury residents who care about clean water, please make your voices heard to the Select Board. Let them know that interfering with the essential role of the Conservation Commission is unacceptable. Let our very competent and thorough Conservation Commission do its job.

Erin Jacque