Until recently, wetlands in New York State have been protected by both a federal wetlands program operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a state program operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Wetlands that are at least 12.4 acres are regulated under the New York State program and the federal program addressed wetlands that fell below the 12.4-acre threshold. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the January 2003 SWANCC ruling has drastically curtailed the federal wetlands protection program, creating a gap in the protection of New York’s wetlands.
In an attempt to fill this gap, and ensure continued protection of New York’s valuable wetlands, new legislation was introduced by the chairs of the Environmental Conservation Committees in both the NY Assembly and Senate in April of 2003. If passed, this legislation (A.7905/S.4480) would lower the threshold for jurisdictional wetlands to one acre or larger. It would also provide protection to those wetlands that are adjacent to water bodies, or of significant local importance. The bill goes on to change the basis for jurisdiction from one of presence on the state wetlands maps to a determination of whether or not the lands in question meet widely accepted criteria for wetlands. The mapping process would also be streamlined, allowing DEC to create more accurate maps, while preserving the ability of municipalities and private citizens to have input in the map development process. Other important aspects of the bill include: the elimination of the current classification system; the addition of “subdivision of property” to the list of land uses that DEC has the authority to regulate; and the removal of a provision grandfathering subdivisions and other actions in wetlands that were permitted prior to the passage of the law in 1975.
The bill has received wide support from environmental groups such as EANY, Environmental Defense, Great Lakes United, Natural Resource Defense Council, and Sierra Club. Numerous cosponsors have signed on in support of the Assembly version of the bill and it is EANY’s hope that the bill will move out of committee during the 2004 legislative session.