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Aerial Photo Initiative in Place to Save Wetlands

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) continued its crackdown on illegal wetland alterations statewide by imposing $338,090 in penalties involving 18 enforcement cases in the first three months of 2007, and requiring 233,465 square feet of wetlands and stream banks to be restored.

Seven of those cases involve MassDEP's innovative aerial surveillance initiative, an ongoing program that uses aerial reconnaissance and computer technology to identify wetlands that have been illegally filled or altered. Those seven cases alone resulted in $129,500 in assessed penalties and the restoration of 160,762 square feet of wetlands.

The seven enforcement decisions are the first cases to follow analysis of the latest round of aerial surveillance completed in 2006. That analysis uncovered nearly 1,500 sites of wetlands filling that impacted approximately 482 acres statewide over a four-year period. Analysis of these sites is ongoing to distinguish permitted work sites from illegally filled sites. As illegal wetland loss sites are identified, enforcement cases will continue to be executed with the assistance of aerial surveillance photography.

"MassDEP's innovative wetlands surveillance initiative allows the Commonwealth to preserve the integrity of these vital natural resources by tracking change in places that may not be readily seen by the public," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said. "Wetlands serve as natural pollutant filters for water supplies, buffer against flooding and provide valuable wildlife habitat, all essential components of our shared environment."

The first seven aerial enforcement cases announced today involve the filling of wetlands at two sites in Salisbury, and sites in Haverhill, Southwick, Newbury, Gardner and North Andover.

"Our first-in-the-nation aerial wetlands enforcement program continues to pinpoint numerous areas across the state where wetlands have been lost to alterations that were not approved by state or local authorities," MassDEP Acting Commissioner Arleen O'Donnell said. "While we have reached agreement in these cases, we continue to review the data from our most recent state flyover and will require all wetlands violators to correct those violations and pay substantial penalties."

The penalties in these seven cases range from $46,000 assessed against a land trust for the alteration of 41,818 square feet of Bordering Vegetated Wetlands (BVW) in Salisbury to a $5,000 assessed penalty for alteration of up to 21,000 square feet of wetlands on residential property in Gardner.

These enforcement cases were the result of MassDEP's high tech wetlands enforcement program that uses before-and-after aerial photographs, which are analyzed by a computer program to show where wetlands have been altered. The photos were taken in 2005 and are compared to photos taken four years earlier to determine the wetlands that were filled. Follow-up file review and field investigation by MassDEP staff confirmed the illegal nature of the wetland impacts.

The aerial flyovers can detect illegal wetlands filling that may not be able to be seen from the road and may not have been reported to local or state authorities.

To date, MassDEP's wetlands surveillance program has resulted in the collection of over $3.8 million in penalties since it was launched in 2002, and required the restoration of over 50 acres of wetlands across the Commonwealth.

Penalties were also assessed in 11 additional wetlands enforcement cases in Shirley, Salisbury, Cohasset, Easthampton, Longmeadow, Auburn, Framingham, Worcester, Charlton and Walpole. The penalties in these cases range from $36,820 assessed against the trustee of a realty trust in Walpole for the alteration of 8,325 square feet of BVW to a $1,750 assessed penalty for alteration of 500 square feet of BVW and 100 linear feet of stream bank on a property in Worcester.

Information on the seven aerial surveillance cases

Robert F. Tindle, Jr., Trustee of Rabbit Road Nominee Trust, Salisbury

MassDEP assessed a $46,000 penalty for alleged Wetlands Protection Act (WPA) violations on a commercial property located at 122 Rabbit Road. After review of surveillance maps in the fall of 2006 raised questions about site conditions, subsequent field inspections confirmed the alteration of approximately 41,818 square feet of BVW. As a result of the enforcement action, Tindle has agreed to fully restore the wetlands and to submit annual monitoring reports for five years. Upon successful restoration and full compliance with the regulations, MassDEP has agreed to suspend $36,000 of the penalty.

Sawyer Enterprise, Inc., Bradford Ski Area, Haverhill

MassDEP assessed a $36,500 penalty for alleged violations of the WPA at a ski area located on South Cross Road in Haverhill. After viewing the aerial surveillance maps in the fall of 2006, MassDEP conducted a site inspection and found that approximately 58,000 square feet of BVW had been altered without the approval of the Haverhill Conservation Commission and MassDEP. In one area, a productive wooded swamp had been converted to a lawn. In addition to paying the penalty, the company has agreed to restore the area and to conduct long-term monitoring. MassDEP will suspend $16,500 of the penalty if the facility conducts the restoration and complies with the regulations.

Southwick Motocross 338, Inc.

MassDEP assessed a $13,000 penalty for alleged violations of the WPA on Legion Road in Southwick. Between April 2001 and April 2005, Southwick Motocross used mechanized equipment to install an access road in wetlands resource areas near Great Brook. During an inspection, MassDEP confirmed that the access road had been built, and approximately 22,652 square feet of wetlands resources areas had been filled. Southwick Motocross must hire an environmental consultant to delineate the replacement area for the wetland, and then draft a restoration plan for that area. MassDEP will suspend $6,500 of the penalty upon the successful completion of the restoration plan.

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