New wetlands bylaw in place in Shutesbury

Shutesbury Town Hall.

Shutesbury Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-30-2024 1:28 PM

SHUTESBURY — After a series of amendments and nearly three hours of discussion and debate, a new wetlands protection bylaw is in place in Shutesbury, adopted without a sentence that some interpreted as giving developers veto power over certain conditions set by the Conservation Commission.

The bylaw was adopted by majority vote at a Special Town Meeting on Jan. 23, replacing one approved at a similar session 37 years ago.

“Overall, the passing of the bylaw, with the fatal flaw removed, is very good for the town,” Sharon Weizenbaum, a member of the activist group Smart Solar Shutesbury, wrote in an email. “We are relieved our lawyer found it, and appalled that it was there at all.”

During Smart Solar Shutesbury’s virtual forum earlier this month, Donna Brewer, an attorney with Harrington Heep LLP of Wellesley, addressed the bylaw’s originally proposed language. In a letter, Brewer wrote that, while the proposed bylaw allowed conditions to be imposed by the Conservation Commission — including that certain land not be built upon or altered, filled or dredged, and that streams are not diverted, dammed or otherwise disturbed — it also allowed a possible veto in “that such conditions may be included only with the consent of the applicant.” The controversial language was amended on the Town Meeting floor.

Adoption of the bylaw comes after the Conservation Commission in October approved new wetlands bylaw regulations to protect the “community’s sensitive wetland resource areas, water quality and quantity, and wildlife habitat.”

The amendments adjusted other parts of the bylaw as well. Once a final vote was ready, a motion to have a secret ballot vote failed, meaning that the vote was tallied by raising hands for and against.

The remaining six articles that were part of a seven-article warrant, all involving spending proposals and transfers, were passed as written. There was some discussion about why $50,000 was needed from the free cash account to cover legal fees, expenses that some residents blamed on town officials hiring special attorneys focused on the wetlands bylaw and associated regulations.

Other approved articles allow the use of $40,000 from the capital stabilization fund to address cost overruns related to the Locks Pond culvert project and $9,000 in free cash for monitoring of gas leaks at the Fire Station, being done by Tighe & Bond in response to a letter from the state Department of Environmental Protection about contamination at the Leverett Road site.

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Town Meeting voters also adopted state law Chapter 40, Section 22F, which accepts that elected and appointed committees can charge fees; transferred $136,943 from the Municipal Light Plant retained earnings to an emergency reserve fund; and used $2,500 in free cash to pay a previous year bill for the Mosquito Control Board.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.