Tinmouth Channel wetland receives increased state protection

Manchester Journal
reprinted with permission

December 14, 2001

by Anita Pomerance
Manchester Journal Correspondent

TINMOUTH -- Citizens of Tinmouth learned this week that the 1,450-acre Tinmouth Channel wetland, of which 1200 acres is state-owned, just north of Danby, has been granted Class One status.

The state Water Resources Board granted the Vermont Natural Resources Council's petition to upgrade the wetland's classification from Class Two. The Tinmouth Channel wetland complex is now the third wetland in Vermont to receive Class One status. The other two are the 300-acre Dorset Marsh and the 8-acre North Shore wetland in Burlington.

The Tinmouth Channel wetland runs from the Danby-Tinmouth line, north of Danby Pond, to North End Road, where the Channel flows into the Clarendon River, and between East Road and Otis Road.

According to Kelly Lowry, water program director and general counsel for VNRC, the petition which the Water Resources Board accepted stated that the wetland is "exceptional and irreplaceable in its contribution to Vermont's natural heritage."

Lowry said the VNRC brought petition to reclassify the Tinmouth wetland because it was one of the finest examples of a complicated wetland complex, one of the top 20 in the state.

He added that it held the largest known intermediate fen in the state, with a range of natural community types, "Which doesn't occur all that often."

When the state put the Wetland Rules into effect in 1990, all wetlands were automatically designated Class Two or Three. They could only be designated as Class One through petition.

The rules gave examples of Class One wetlands. However, so few petitions were filed that VNRC, a non-profit organization founded in 1963, began its campaign to reclassify important wetlands.

Lowry said VNRC selected Tinmouth because they believed this wetland merited the maximum protection of Class One status.

The petition pointed out that the Tinmouth wetland was an important habitat for migratory birds as well as threatened and endangered species of animals and plants. It also provided "aesthetically satisfying" open space, and possibilities for education and research.

Lowry said VNRC worked to build a consensus of local support. The petition gained the endorsement of Tinmouth's Select Board, Planning Commission, Land Trust and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Lowry said that the VNRC reclassification campaign was important to avoid conflicts in the future. Class Two designation allows for permits to apply for putting in structures such as a septic tank. If the disturbance is deemed harmful, it is rejected.

Under Class One designation, no proposals for "conditional uses" of any sort are considered. The only uses allowed are those predating 1990, such as logging (stumps must stay in) or raising the same crops as before.

Lowry's concern for wetlands, however, goes beyond Tinmouth.

"There are many wetlands in the State of Vermont that merit higher classification than they currently have," he said.

He said "VNRC plans to identify these resources so that they receive the classification and protection they deserve."

Annette Smith, of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said she was delighted with the ruling. She said, "I want to thank the VNRC for recognizing the high quality of the Tinmouth Channel and seeing that it got the high status it's entitled to."

VCE has been active since 2000 in opposing OMYA's plans to extract calcium carbonate ore from its site on the side of Dutch Hill, northwest of Danby Four Corners.

Smith says that "half a dozen" natural resource experts consulted over the potential impact of OMYA's proposal have expressed "extreme concern" for the long term health of the Tinmouth Channel.

These experts include botanists, herpetologists, hydrogeologists, and wetlands experts. They were disturbed, she said, by the effect on the wetland of continued pumping of water from the quarrying pit.

The Tinmouth Channel is adjacent to OMYA's holdings in Danby.

She said the vein of marble OMYA wants to use is very deep, and the company has said they envision working it for the next 50 to 100 years. She added that the fens are special because of the marble, whose calcium gives the water its unique quality.

She said, "We've got to see the results of OMYA's dewatering, what happens in 100 years, maybe as soon as 20, to one of finest wetlands in the state, if not all of New England."