It is the Conservation Commission’s primary responsibility to protect and preserve the wetlands in East Longmeadow and to this end prohibit disturbance of certain areas. The Conservation Commission is charged with administering and enforcing the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act within the town.
Massachusetts has been at the cutting edge of environmental protection for over half a century. The Commonwealth invented the municipal Conservation Commission — a key element in the framework of its protective laws and programs. First authorized under state law in 1957, Conservation Commissions have since gained additional authority from the Massachusetts General Court, from amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, and from municipal bylaws and ordinances. A full awareness and understanding of the range of powers and duties, as well as the limits, that derive from each of these sources are essential to Commission effectiveness.
1.1 Sources of Commission Authority
The 1957 Conservation Commission Act (GL. Ch. 40 §8C) authorized each city and town in Massachusetts to establish a locally appointed municipal agency to plan for natural resource protection, acquire important land and water areas, and manage these properties for conservation and passive recreation. Until 1972 Commissions, as the official municipal agencies charged with natural resource protection, focused on these tasks.
When in 1972 Conservation Commissions were given responsibility for administering the then new state Wetlands Protection Act (GL. Ch. 131 §40), their role in community government expanded enormously. Commissions since that time have also worked for passage of local non-zoning wetlands bylaws or ordinances,.which they also administer. New powers and responsibilities have come with the local option to accept the Community Preservation Act and the recent authority granted to Commissions to assess consultant fees when needed to carry out their duties. Commission powers and duties under the above laws stem variously from Article 89 (Home Rule) and Article 97 (Public Land Protection) of the state Constitution. Each of these, and their relationships, is discussed in the following sections.
Conservation Commissions and their expanding role in the context of environmental protection in Massachusetts are covered in HB §L2 below.
Figure 1A. Sources of Conservation Commission Authority
It is important to note the entirely distinct sources of Conservation Commissions' powers and responsibilities. These are summarized in bullets below. Land acquisition and protection derive from the original Conservation Commission Act, Article 97 of the state Constitution, which gives special protection to municipal lands voted to conservation, and G.L. Ch. 184, which allows the creation of permanent restrictions on land. Regulation of work in and near wetlands derives from the state Wetlands Protection Act and from local bylaws or ordinances authorized under Article 89 of the state Constitution. Other local bylaws and ordinances and state laws may give Commissions authority over additional matters such as erosion, groundwater or earth removal. Sometimes this plurality of sources confuses the public (and some Commissioners and other municipal officials as well); but they are the wellsprings of Commission power.
• Massachusetts Constitution (Articles 89 and 97)
• Conservation Commission Act (G.L. Ch. 40 §8C)
• Wetlands Protection Act (G. L. Ch. 131 §40)
• Municipal General (Non-Zoning) Wetlands Bylaws/Ordinances
• Community Preservation Act (G.L. Ch. 44B)
• Consultant Fee Provisions (GL. Ch. 44 §53G)
• Conservation Restriction Act (GL. Ch. 184 §§31-33
• Other Bylaws/Ordinances and Statutes
The Conservation Commission Act allows the community(town meeting or city council)to set the number of members between three and seven. Most municipalities have seven Commissioners to help minimize the workload of each member, though some communities prefer a smaller number. Town meeting or city council action is similarly required to change the number. An increase or decrease in the number of members is phased in over three years so that the legislative goal of staggered terms over three year periods is not altered. All Commissioners and prospective Commissioners should read the Act and become familiar with its major provisions. It is a noble and unusual piece of legislation, with many implementation challenges. Being a volunteer Commissioner is a noble calling for those interested in protecting the environment in their community. The Conservation Commission also has representation on the Community Preservation Committee.
The Conservation Commission was established by vote of the Town on March 7, 1966 in accepting Chapter 40, Section 8C of Massachusetts General Laws as amended. Seven members serve three-year terms by appointment of the Town Manager.