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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Wetlands rules up for review

By DAVE SOLOMON
February 04. 2018 1:35AM
If HB 1104 becomes law, DES would face shortened timelines for responding to developers who want wetlands dredge and fill permits. The state would also be constrained in prosecuting property owners for wetland violations that occurred under previous owners. (Courtesy/Cheryl Kimball)



If you live near the water, want to live near the water, or just care about the quality of New Hampshire's waterways, you might want to attend one of five public hearings scheduled in February and early March on the first overhaul of the state's wetlands rules since 1991.

Cutting down on regulations has been a top priority for Gov. Chris Sununu, and few aspects of life in New Hampshire are more regulated than development on or near wetlands, which includes lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and shorelines.

"These efforts are the most comprehensive overhaul of wetlands rules in over 25 years, and represent a major step toward a more citizen-centered state government," says Sununu.

The proposed rules shorten the review time for certain approvals and expand the number of projects that qualify for streamlined review. The draft documents on the Department of Environmental Services website cover hundreds of pages of new definitions, rules and best-management practices.

The rewrite has been in the works since 2014. NHDES hosted more than 100 listening sessions, and heard from a variety of stakeholders, from landowners to road agents, conservation commissioners to marine contractors.

The public comment deadline on the draft rules is April 20. After that, formal rule making gets under way, including another round of public hearings and an additional public comment period The goal is to have all the new rules approved by the end of the year.

Hearings on the draft proposal are scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 26 in Concord at NHDES headquarters; from 4 to 6 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the Portsmouth Public Library; from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on March 1 at Laconia City Hall; from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on March 5 at the Keene Public Library; and from 5 to 7 p.m. on March 7 at the North Country Resource Center in Lancaster.

Cutting down on red tape is high on Sununu's agenda. The House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee voted 11-9 along party lines last week to endorse HB 1104, a bill containing many of the recommendations submitted to Sununu by his Regulatory Reform Steering Committee.

If the bill becomes law, DES would face shortened timelines for responding to developers who want wetlands dredge and fill permits. The state would also be constrained in prosecuting property owners for wetland violations that occurred under previous owners.

HB 1104 is on the calendar for the House session on Wednesday, but Democrats challenged an amendment regarding reciprocity with other states for professional licensing.

They argued that honoring the license of a doctor, nurse, or electrician from another state has nothing to do with wetlands regulations, and as a "non-germane" amendment, subject to a public hearing.

House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, agreed with the Democrats, even though the non-germane amendment was submitted by his majority leader Rep. Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack.

"Rules are rules," said House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, who raised the issue with Chandler. A new amendment containing only the wetlands issues will be introduced on the House floor.

If the deregulation bill passes the House, it would then be referred to the House Committee on Executive Departments and Administration, which would hold a public hearing on licensing reciprocity.

Another family leave vote

The House will be in session on Wednesday and Thursday, with a lengthy agenda that includes another vote on HB 628, the family and medical leave insurance program.

The Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee endorsed the bill, which passed the House on Jan. 9, 183-151. It was then referred to the Commerce Committee for additional review, and on Wednesday that committee voted 11-9 along party lines (all Republicans opposed) against the bill.

On Wednesday, the House could vote to accept that recommendation, which would mean the end of the idea at least for this session, or to overturn the report of its Commerce Committee.

If the House overturns the committee and passes the bill, it will go to a third House committee (Finance), and back to the House for a third vote.


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