Riverkeeper aids New Paltz on challenged wetlands law

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz town leaders got a boost from environmental group Riverkeeper in their quest to appeal the annulment of their 2011 wetlands law.

Riverkeeper, along with the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Third Department Appellate Court of New York supporting the Town of New Paltz.

New Paltz’s 2011 wetlands law sought to regulate wetlands 0.1 acres or larger — smaller than wetlands protected by state regulations. On Sept. 4, 2012, state Supreme Court Justice Raymond J. Elliott III struck down the town’s law for being “unconstitutionally vague.”

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The judge’s main complaint was that town officials had made no attempt to provide a map spelling out where those protected marshes actually reside.

Town officials were initially quiet about the loss, but they’re now appealing that decision with the Appellate Division.

Riverkeeper recently sent out a press release about their “friend of the court” filing.

“At least 78 municipalities have enacted laws meant to protect wetlands considered too small to warrant federal or state protection,” it reads. “Just like New Paltz, many of these municipalities rely on existing state and federal maps as a starting point to identify areas covered by local law, which are then delineated during development approval processes.”

Riverkeeper says it believes the judge’s ruling was too harsh because the Town of New Paltz specifically has a wetlands inspector on staff to “visit properties, free of charge, to assess whether a wetland or watercourse would be affected by proposed development.”

Town Supervisor Susan Zimet sees Riverkeeper joining the legal fight as something that will benefit the community.

“It is great to have them join with us,” the supervisor said, adding that she felt the judge’s original ruling might not hold much weight. “This particular ruling by the judge, as I understand, was so bad that it cannot be allowed to become case law.”

Property rights advocates had originally celebrated the judge’s ruling to overturn the law as a victory.

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