Conservation

Frequently Asked Questions


Where can I find information on Mass. Fish and Wildlife laws?

How do I go about registering my boat, snowmobile or A.T.V. or to learn about safety classes?

What should I do if I see someone breaking environmental laws such as illegal dumping, fish and game violations or abusing public lands?

I enjoy Haverhill's lakes, trails, conservation areas and parks. What can I do to help out?

How can I join the Haverhill Conservation Commission?

What is a wetland?

What types of "resource areas" does a Conservation Commission protect under the Wetlands Protection Act?

What does a Conservation Commission protect under the Rivers Protection Act?

What does the Conservation Commission protect under the City's wetlands protection ordinance?

What is the Stormwater Management Policy?

Why do we protect all these "resource areas"?

How do I know if an area is a wetland resource area?

What is a buffer zone?

How do I know if my project requires the review of the Commission?

What is and is not allowed in a wetland resource area?

Do I need a permit to put a dock in the Merrimack River?

What can I do to help maintain the health of wetland resource areas?

Q: Where can I find information on Mass. Fish and Wildlife laws?
A: Copies of the annually updated Abstracts of Mass. Fish and Wildlife laws are available at the Conservation Office (Room 205, City Hall) or at the City Clerk's Office (Room 118, City Hall).

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Q: How do I go about registering my boat, snowmobile or A.T.V. or to learn about safety classes?
A: All recreational vehicle registrations and safety classes are conducted by the Mass. Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement. Call them at (617) 626-1610 for information on these matters.

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Q: What should I do if I see someone breaking environmental laws such as illegal dumping, fish and game violations or abusing public lands?
A: Do not attempt to deal with any violators yourself, as most violators would engage you in a hostile confrontation. Do call the Conservation Office at (978) 374-2334 or Haverhill Police at (978) 373-1212 and report what you have seen and ask that a Conservation Officer investigate the situation. Jot down important information such as motor vehicle license plates, time, date, description of the violators or any information that would be helpful in the apprehension of these lawbreakers.

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Q: I enjoy Haverhill's lakes, trails, conservation areas and parks. What can I do to help out?
A: We are always in need of volunteers and greatly appreciate anyone who can help out on our numerous trail projects, environmental clean-ups, and Learn-to-Fish program. Please call the Conservation Office to speak with any of our staff that will be glad to tell you how you can get involved.

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Q: How can I join the Haverhill Conservation Commission?
A: The Haverhill Conservation Commission is a seven-member commission of volunteer residents with various backgrounds and experiences. The Mayor of Haverhill makes membership appointments to maintain a full complement of commissioners. Anyone interested in being appointed to the Commission is encouraged to submit a letter of inquiry with background information and/or a résumé to the Mayor's Office.

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Q: What is a wetland?
A: A short question with what could be a very long answer. Although the term "wetland" may be specifically defined, many people use it interchangeably with general terms: "conservation land", "protected land", "open space", "special conservation", "drainage area", "the portion of my lawn I cannot mow until August"; the list goes on and on. The Conservation Commission and its related agencies cumulatively consider many of these terms "wetland resource areas" or simply "resource areas". These "resource areas" are discussed briefly in following questions. A good regulatory definition of the term "wetland", however, may be found in the Federal Clean Water Act as: "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas."

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Q: What types of "resource areas" does a Conservation Commission protect under the Wetlands Protection Act?
A: The Commission protects a number of types of resource areas; some visibly wet most of the year and some visibly dry most of the year. The Wetlands Protection Act identifies the following areas subject to protection:

  1. Any bank, freshwater wetland, coastal wetland, beach, dune, flat, marsh, or swamp bordering on the ocean or any estuary, creek, river, stream, pond, or lake; (Many of these particular areas are often termed "bordering vegetated wetlands".)
  2. Land under any of the water bodies listed above;
  3. Land subject to tidal action;
  4. Land subject to coastal storm flowage;
  5. Land subject to flooding; and
  6. Riverfront Area (see next question).

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Q: What does a Conservation Commission protect under the Rivers Protection Act?
A: In 1996 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts enacted the Rivers Protection Act. This Act essentially added the protection of "Riverfront Area" to the resource areas protected under the Wetlands Protection Act. In Haverhill, Riverfront Area is, generally, land (both wet and dry) located within 200' of either side of perennial streams and rivers.

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Q:What does the Conservation Commission protect under the City's wetlands protection ordinance?
A: In 1996 the City Council passed an ordinance to protect wetlands, related water resources, and adjoining land areas. This ordinance expands the types of resource areas protected under the State's Acts by identifying areas such as seeps, poorly drained areas, and areas subject to surface flooding. The ordinance also expands the number of abutters notified of larger projects under the State's Act by increasing the definition of abutters as being those persons within 100' of a project site to within 300' of a project site.

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Q: What is the Stormwater Management Policy?
A: In 1996 the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued this policy to establish clear and consistent guidelines for stormwater management across the state. The standards of this policy, enforced by the Conservation Commission, are intended to prevent untreated discharges to wetlands and waters; preserve hydrologic conditions that closely resemble pre-development conditions; reduce or prevent flooding by managing the peak discharge and volumes of runoff; minimize erosion and sedimentation; reduce suspended solids and other pollutants to improve water quality; and provide increased protection of sensitive natural resources.

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Q:Why do we protect all these "resource areas"?
A: It has long been recognized that these resource areas provide important public values and services. These resource areas protect public and private water supplies by filtering out pollutants and separating water bodies from areas of disturbance. They protect groundwater supplies by absorbing water and recharging the water table. They control flooding and prevent storm damage by detaining water and releasing it slowly at a rate streams can better handle. They prevent pollution of our streams and lakes by filtering sediments and taking up nutrients from stormwater. They also protect shellfish, fisheries, and wildlife habitat by providing this cleaner water, as well as nesting places, protective cover, and food. The City's ordinance also recognizes their importance in protecting agricultural lands, protecting the aesthetics of the City, and providing recreational opportunities.

For a long time wetland resource areas were treated as dumping grounds, considered to be wasted land. Areas were filled and channelized in efforts to "reclaim" land. This treatment led to diminished water quality, less abundant wildlife, and storm damage during floods. The protection of these resource areas in their natural state has led to improved water quality in our rivers and lakes, providing numerous recreational opportunities and a clean drinking water supply. It has led to the return of a diverse wildlife, with bald eagles regularly wintering along the Merrimack River and moose making occasional appearances. And it has led to the protection of some of our largest areas of open space.

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Q:How do I know if an area is a wetland resource area?
A: Sometimes wetland resource areas are easy to identify; they may contain standing water with an abundance of cattails, purple loosestrife, high bush blueberry shrubs, or red maple trees. However, many identifications become complex and require some level of technical expertise with knowledge of such terms as intermittent or perennial stream status, oxidation and reduction, and floodplain. To begin learning what types of resource areas may exist on your property, or in your neighborhood, you can contact the staff of the Haverhill Conservation Department. The staff is always available to assist you in learning more about these resource areas as well as the regulations protecting them.

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Q: What is a buffer zone?
A: Many of the resource areas protected by the Wetlands Protection Act and the City's wetlands protection ordinance have a 100' buffer zone. This buffer zone is measured from the edge of the resource area, such as a bordering vegetated wetland, outward 100'. The City's ordinance expands this distance in some areas, particularly along our water supplies where the buffer zone is 200'. The City's ordinance also breaks this buffer zone down into other zones of protection, namely the 25'-No Disturbance Zone ("NDZ") and the 50'-No Build Zone ("NBZ"). The NDZ is protected in its natural state as a buffer to the resource area. Between the limits of the NDZ and NBZ, some disturbance is allowed. However, new houses and buildings most often have to be constructed outside the NBZ. Buffer zones do not receive the level of "protection" afforded wetland resource areas. However, activities proposed within these buffer zones are subject to review and regulation by the Commission.

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Q: How do I know if my project requires the review of the Commission?
A: Contact the Conservation Department. The various state and local regulations mentioned in other questions contain specific standards that may apply to your particular project. The staff is available to look at each individual proposal to determine what level of permitting with the Commission may be necessary. Should your project require the Commission's approval, the staff is also available to guide you through the application processes.

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Q: What is and is not allowed in a wetland resource area?
A: Unfortunately, there is no list. Each project is reviewed individually to determine what level of permitting with the Commission may be necessary. Some projects only require a phone call to the Conservation Department; other projects require the hiring of private consultants. The general rule for the protection of these areas is "no alteration". Our yards may be high-maintenance, with lawns that need frequent cutting and hedges that need pruning. With wetland resource areas, the approach is hands-off. In these areas the goal is to maintain healthy hydrological, plant, and wildlife communities. Disturbing the soil (so that it may erode), dumping grass clippings, brush, and leaves (which smother plants), and clearing natural vegetation are prohibited, as are the construction of buildings and houses and many of their appurtenances. On land subject to flooding (commonly termed "floodplain") the goal is to maintain the ability of the land to receive floodwaters. The placement of fill, stockpiling of materials, and construction of buildings and houses and many of their appurtenances are prohibited within this resource area without a permit from the Commission.

The Conservation Commission also has the responsibility to regulate activities proposed within buffer zones of wetland resource areas. The buffer zone is, generally, the upland area located within 100' of a resource area. The Commission typically reviews activities proposed in buffer zones to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to minimize the threat of adverse resource area impacts when construction on the upland occurs. Many homeowner projects located in a buffer zone, such as pools, decks, landscaping (including the cutting of a tree), etc. are found to be relatively minor. For these activities it is recommended that you contact the Conservation Department to speak with a staff member. Many of these projects are reviewed with a phone call and/or a site meeting, at which time you may elaborate upon the limits of your project.

Some buffer zone projects are more extensive and require the Commission's formal review through the Request for a Determination of Applicability permitting process. This is the simpler of the Commission's two primary applications. It is typically used by homeowners for the review of slightly larger projects, such as the construction of a garage or addition within the 50'-No Build Zone.

The second, more complex application is the Notice of Intent. The Commission typically reserves this application for large-scale buffer zone projects, such as the construction of a new house. This application process typically involves the hiring of a surveyor, engineer, and/or botanist by the applicant. More detailed information, such as an engineered site plan, is needed with this application, as is the requirement for the applicant to notify project abutters.

Although the various regulations restrict direct impacts to a resource area, these regulations also provide the Commission with some flexibility under specific circumstances. The Notice of Intent procedure is also used under these circumstances where the Commission may be reviewing such projects as the construction of a driveway through a marsh or the re-construction of a public utility along a riverfront area. In these instances, the projects must be environmentally sensitive and provide appropriate mitigation measures to compensate for proposed impacts to the resource areas.

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Q: Do I need a permit to put a dock in the Merrimack River?
A: Yes. Dock approvals in past years were complex, involving the Conservation Commission, Harbormaster, Department of Environmental Protection, and Army Corps of Engineers. Today, for commercial and some residential dock systems, these same agencies are still highly involved. However, for small-scale residential systems used by most homeowners, the Commission and Harbormaster have worked together to simplify and streamline the permitting process. First, it is recommended that you speak with the Harbormaster to determine the feasibility of installing a dock on you property, including any safety requirements that must be met. Once you have an idea of the layout needs for your system, it is recommended that you review the standard design stipulations used by the Commission for permitting such projects. It is also recommended at that time that you schedule a site meeting with a Conservation Department staff member to review your intended system layout, as well as your existing site conditions. This meeting serves as a preliminary checkpoint as to whether or not your system can reasonably meet the standard design stipulations. If it can, the staff member will be able to review the Request for a Determination of Applicability permitting process with you. This application typically requires a sketch of the system intended to be installed. If you ask the staff member, he or she may be able to provide an example sketch taken from past permitted projects. If the intended system cannot reasonably meet the standard design stipulations, the more complex Notice of Intent permitting process may be necessary for your project.

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Q: What can I do to help maintain the health of wetland resource areas?
A: You can do many things:

  1. Remove trash and bottles by hand from a wetland resource area.
  2. Dispose of yard waste somewhere else, such a the City's recycling center; or set up a compost pile away from the resource area. The leaves and grass will decompose to become your best soil.
  3. Down near the resource area, set up a small brush pile or two made of branches from yard waste. Brush piles make good wildlife cover.
  4. Don't dump motor oil into street drains. What goes into the drains and the ground in Haverhill eventually goes into the Merrimack River, and, in many areas, our drinking water supply. Proper disposal of oil is available at the store where you purchased it or at the City's recycling center.
  5. Don't dump anything that pollutes.
  6. Avoid or minimize the use of de-icing salt near resource areas and drainage systems. Many stores carry more nature-friendly alternatives.
  7. Avoid or minimize the use of fertilizers and poisons near resource areas and drainage systems. Some fertilizers can cause algae blooms in our surface waters. Some poisons can impact the plants and wildlife in the resource areas.
  8. Make use of drywells for drainage to avoid heavy runoff into our watercourses from roofs and paving. The use of drywells also recharges the groundwater table by infiltrating rainwater.
  9. Maintain your septic system properly. Contact the Haverhill Board of Health for more information on proper septic system maintenance, such as pumping needs and the impacts of chemicals and hazardous wastes on important system microorganisms.
  10. When washing your car, direct the rinse water away from wetland resource areas and drainage systems.
  11. If you have an underground storage tank for home heating oil, have it tested to ensure it is not leaking through the soil and into the groundwater.
  12. Talk to your neighbor if your neighbor is inadvertently impacting a resource area.
  13. Report violations to the Conservation Department.

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