CLARENDON — The Planning Commission has warned a number of property owners that they reside in what the state had deemed a “river corridor,” though commissioners aren’t sure what that means. The state, likewise, isn’t sure what document the commission is referencing.
“This came up because I’ve gotten a number of calls from people concerned about the letter that was sent by the Planning Commission,” Administrative Assistant to the Select Board, Janet Arnold, said at a board meeting on Monday. “Basically, the Planning Commission sent a letter that does actually muddy the waters a bit.”
A copy of the letter provided to the Herald by the Select Board reads in part, “Recently, the enclosed list of Clarendon properties, which was prepared by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), was sent to the Clarendon Planning Commission. The Agency has determined that at least a portion, if not all, of the properties on this list are within something called a ‘River Corridor.’ We Commission members don’t know the significance of having your property included in this list and don’t really understand what a River Corridor is, or why it may be important. However, it seems to us that being on the list will somehow restrict how you are allowed to utilize your land.”
Arnold said she’s had several calls from people who received the letter worried their property will be taken, or development on it restricted.
“ANR has said no, that is absolutely not the case, but I wanted to bring it to your attention, because I’ve received phone calls on it,” Arnold told the board.
The Planning Commission letter instructs people to contact John Broker-Campbell, regional floodplain manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation, part of the ANR.
Broker-Campbell said in an interview Wednesday he’d received several calls from Clarendon residents, though he doesn’t know what document the Planning Commission is referring to.
Shannon Pytlik, river scientist for the DEC’s River Program, said Wednesday a river corridor is the area in which a river moves over time.
“People think of rivers as static,” she said. “They’re not, they move.”
She said this became apparent to anyone who witnessed the damage from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, when the channel of several rivers and streams moved, sometimes taking out homes and other properties. A river corridor is not the same thing as a floodplain, she said.
Pytlik said towns can adopt regulations for their river corridors. This has been suggested to the town of Clarendon, and over the past few years there have been meetings with the Select Board and Planning Commission about doing so, but the town doesn’t appear interested.
Pytlik said towns that adopt river corridor regulations can get greater levels of reimbursement from the state after a federal disaster declaration. They also get priority when applying to certain grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Rob Evans, river corridor and floodplain manager, said Thursday he doesn’t know what the Planning Commission is referencing, but has been trying to find out. He doesn’t believe anyone under his jurisdiction sent such a document, and it would be highly unusual for it to do so.
Evans said the state can identify river corridor areas, but it doesn’t list properties within them. If a town hasn’t adopted river corridor regulations, the only extra laws that would apply to them would be state regulations around berms, Act 250 permits and power production facilities under Section 248.
The state maintains a website with information about river management. A list of frequently asked questions about it can be found at: https://bit.ly/2HmEEtp
In May, a letter was sent from Evans’ agency to towns with river corridor regulations. The letter contained updated maps of said corridors that were open to public comment. Clarendon wouldn’t have received this, he said, as it has no town-level river corridor laws.
Planning Commission Chairman Brownson Spencer said in a phone interview Wednesday he wasn’t sure when the commission received its letter from ANR, nor was he entirely certain how many people the Planning Commission sent its own letter to. He said the commission felt it best to let the state explain the river corridors to people who wished to know more.
There was speculation at the Select Board meeting that what the Planning Commission saw had something to do with efforts to reclassify 15,000 acres of Class II wetlands to Class I up in the Cornwall area.
Zapata Courage, district wetland ecologist with the DEC, said Thursday that effort doesn’t extend to Clarendon.
“The Otter Creek Wetland Complex doesn’t extend down to Clarendon,” she said. “And as far as I know, I am not aware of any wetland within Clarendon that would meet Class I criteria, and there certainly is no petition for one within the town.”
The Otter Creek Wetland Complex reclassification effort was started by town environmental commissions in Cornwall and Salisbury.
Others at the Clarendon meeting on Monday thought the Rutland County Regional Planning Commission might be involved with river corridors. Ed Bove, executive director of the regional commission, said Thursday his agency has sent Clarendon no letters regarding river corridors and isn’t involved in them. He, too, had heard about the letter and wasn’t aware what it’s referencing.