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Dear Conservation Commission Chairman Kevin P Cornacchio

solarterre-e-em
 child growing center
patricia jennings-welch, executive director
145 loring avenue v salem, MA 01970
tel. 978-745-4549



April 27, 2006

Kevin P. Cornacchio, Chairman
Salem Conservation Commission
120 Washington Street
Salem, MA 01970

Dear Chairman Cornacchio:

I found out yesterday about the actual details of today's ConsCom meeting, (special time, and that Salem State College expansion plans would definitely be up for review). The last I heard was that SSC wanted to file a Notice of Intent; however, I never received formal notification as an abutter. I believe this step is required by law, and am quite upset that it may have been skirted by the developer. The closest reference I can find to the subject of Abutter Notification and the WPA is the following:

ABUTTER NOTIFICATION: Notification to Abutters (in addition to a newspaper 
advertisement) is required by the WPA prior to a hearing held under a NOTICE OF INTENT filing. This abutter notification involves notification of the public hearing by certified mail to all those abutters whose properties are within 100 feet of the subject parcel or parcels. A copy of this notification and a signed "Affidavit of Service" must be submitted as part of your Notice of Intent Package.

It would seem to be a clear violation, unless Salem's requirements are significantly different. Are Salem's conditions that much weaker than those of other towns? And if so, why? Of course, I realize there will be other opportunities to weigh in through the course of the review process, appeals, and so on; and naturally we can consult with our own legal counsel-to the extent that we can afford it-should neighbors feel the city can't or won't protect our interests. Still, notice requirements are more than a formality: one could argue all day about whether it is a simple oversight or a deliberate attempt to leave vocal opponents out of the loop. Such arguments are made moot precisely by the fact of a legal requirement. 

Nor is it a formality on a logistical level. In addition to providing adequate preparation for review, I'm sure you realize we are all busy people. Relatives are in town tonight for a family reunion and a 78th birthday celebration for my mother; this hearing is too important for me to miss, and so I will have to skip a family function that could have been rescheduled had the developer followed the law.

It may seem a point of personal privilege, but the larger implications are disturbing. The perception already exists among friends and neighbors (and from a cursory reading of history) that large institutional landholders seem to skirt regulations with a wink and a nod: nothing we have seen to date has discouraged this perception. 

I hope you will forgive my presumption, but Salem seems to be behind the curve in protecting our resources; the notice requirement may be the tip of an unfortunate iceberg. My research has shown that many other communities require far more stringent conditions: one even has a 100 foot no-build setback from the 100-year flood line, which would make both the proposed projects moot. Some have wider wetland buffer zones than 100 feet, or observe the more stringent 200 foot riverfront area zone. These updates are consistent with the evolving consensus in the scientific community that legal buffers provide inadequate protection for the life zone and natural upland connection wetland resources need.

It hardly seems the right time to be on the wrong end of this curve. Developers like to isolate projects from those upstream or downstream (and in this case, even others on their own parcel) because it makes approval easier. The end result for the larger picture, however, is the steady, continued encroachment on important natural resources that can never be replaced. 

New Orleans lies in ruins today, in part because of a wetlands management disaster that was over a hundred years in the making. This is no idle exercise in hyperbole. In a recent report titled Threat of Major Hurricane Strike Grows for Northeast, AccuWeather.com warns that a "'Weather disaster of historic proportions' could strike as early as this year." And while other dangers-such as increased risks of childhood asthma from gridlock caused by development sprawl-may lie outside your purview, they are hardly irrelevant to the larger picture. I realize there are limits on your oversight powers; however, I trust you will do whatever you can in this regard. What we already know about rising sea levels, the accelerating pace of wetland destruction, and the life-saving properties of these resources should give us pause to consider the legacy we are leaving to our grandchildren. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Daniel P. Welch
Administrative Director

Cc: Steven Ellis, Esq.
City and state officials
Interested groups

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Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. Some of his articles have been broadcast on radio, and translations are available in up to 20 languages. Links to the website are appreciated at danielpwelch.com.