WMEAC Helps Grand Rapids Revise Wetland Rules

wetland stream

WMEAC Director of Policy and Activism Nick Occhipinti address the Grand Rapids City Commission this week in support of an ordinance to replace a section of the “Wetlands, Streams and Water Bodies Requirements” in the city code.

The ordinance contains regulations for construction near wetlands, streams, and water bodies. Occhipinti described the ordinance as “one that will establish water quality protections that reduce the impact of the built environment by preventing chemical, physical, and biological degradation of water systems.” and gave WMEAC’s support for the ordinance, though it came with some reservations.

WMEAC informed the commission about problems with the language of the ordinance allowing the buffer zone to be reduced to 50 or 25 feet in special cases from the normal 75 feet required was not ideal. These zones are important for filtering pollutants and allowing for flood control along with many other benefits. However, the 25 feet buffer zone is a minimum to be added to two other undeveloped buffer zones according to the Low Impact Development (LID) Manual. The ordinance specifically identifies the LID Manual for use in determining Best Management Practices.

The ideal environmental practice for these situations is considered 100 feet or more in order to minimize impact. WMEAC believes that this standard in a city that is as fully developed asGrand Rapidswould be difficult to maintain in many situations. However, by looking at the current and future value of specific sites will allow the city to be better informed when determining the size of a buffer zone. For example, a previously undeveloped area that contributes little pollution to a nearby water source should have a larger buffer zone required than a reclaimed or previously abandoned space where new construction/care could actually have a positive net benefit on the area. WMEAC also pointed out that considering site-specific features such as slope, proximity to industry, impermeable surfaces, wastewater, etc. would also be beneficial in determining a site’s environmental impact.

The ordinance had the full support of the City Commission and was adopted by unanimous vote on Tuesday, January 10. However, these regulations may soon be affected by more stringent statewide or federal requirements.

Compiled by Adam Levitz

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