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Supporting Communities’ Rights to Protect Wetlands and Watercourses


Humpo Marsh in New Paltz, courtesy Laura Heady
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On Friday, August 2, 2013, Riverkeeper and the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic submitted an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief to the Third Department Appellate Court of New York in support of the Town of New Paltz’s right to protect its wetlands, waterbodies and watercourses from irresponsible destruction.

Humpo Marsh in New Paltz, courtesy Laura Heady

Earlier this year, New Paltz lost a challenge to its Wetland and Watercourse Protection Law when the Ulster County Supreme Court held that the law was unconstitutionally vague, since the Town did not take the impractical and unnecessary step of delineating and mapping every single regulated wetland. Instead the law defined the areas it intended to regulate. The court’s decision reversed decades of jurisprudence with respect to the constitutionality and enforceability of wetlands laws and put in legal jeopardy several dozen other municipal wetland protection laws in New York. New Paltz has appealed the decision to the Third Department.

The brief, filed on Riverkeeper’s behalf by the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, details the vital public services provided by wetlands, including economic, public health, and environmental benefits. It also explains that the wetland boundaries and rules are clearly defined and not burdensome.

Wetlands aid in groundwater recharge, filter water pollution, and provide habitat and food for diverse species. Wetlands also act like sponges, absorbing and retaining flood and stormwaters to reduce erosion and prevent downstream flooding, which reduces the risk of property damage and loss of life. Wetlands in New York are threatened by human activities, particularly development projects, which often impact water quality, quantity, and flow rates, and increase pollutant inputs.

At least 78 municipalities have enacted laws meant to protect wetlands considered too small to warrant federal or state protection. Just like New Paltz, many of these municipalities rely on existing state and federal maps as a starting point to identify areas covered by local law, which are then delineated during development approval processes. The New Paltz law would provide a wetlands inspector to visit properties, free of charge, to assess whether a wetland or watercourse would be affected by proposed development. Since wetlands are crucial and fragile natural resources, and since New Paltz chose the least burdensome method of regulating wetlands for its taxpayers, Riverkeeper has respectfully requested that the Third Department Appellate Court uphold New Paltz’s Wetland and Watercourse Protection Law.

New Paltz wetlands – Proposed Amicus Brief – Aug. 2, 2013
New Paltz wetlands – Amicus Brief Appendix A – Aug. 2, 2013

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