Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

For Peat’s Sake: Call Me Crazy

For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Call me crazy – I threw my hat in the ring to run for my Town Council this fall. It’s not a decision I made lightly. The position will require monthly meetings discussing the many details of town government plus the additional requisite committee meetings. It’s a big time commitment. And no matter how hard I try to understand individual concerns and try to find balance, I will be required to gorhman92415make decisions that are bound to make someone unhappy. But after two years of regularly attending town council meetings as a resident and participating in public comment periods it became apparent to me that if I really wanted to make a difference I needed to take a greater leadership role. I love my little town and I want to help successfully navigate it through the challenges that lie ahead.

mainstreet92415My small town in Gorham, Maine is currently the fastest growing municipality in Maine. Like many communities that have found themselves in this situation before us, we are facing many challenges associated with rapid growth but we are not well positioned to manage it. We don’t have a game plan – instead we have relied on a patchwork approach to growth that is not grounded in any overall comprehensive strategy.  Traffic congestion continues to get worse as my town has developed into a through-way from homes to job centers in towns on either side of us. Little by little we are losing our unique village center with historical homes and local independent businesses and are beginning to look like “anywhere USA” with franchises and unattractive large open parking lots. That’s what can be seen on the surface.

trails92415But what most folks don’t know or don’t talk about are the highly impaired waterways that once used to flow through our community. One such waterway, Tannery Brook, is located behind my neighborhood. Our Conservation Commission is trying to restore the area into a preserve but the focus is primarily on creating trails, which will be a great community asset, but it’s not clear what role hydrologic restoration has in their plans if any. According to the Watershed Management Plan that was prepared in 2005 by the Cumberland County Soil & Watershed District, “Tannery Brook’s water quality is threatened primarily by nonpoint source pollution or polluted runoff that washes into the stream from its surrounding watershed which includes 7-8 stormwater outfalls near urban areas that contribute excess sediment and other pollutants, increased flows and warm stormwater (thermal pollution) to the stream.”  In Gorham’s village center, there is a small stream that has taken the place of the old railroad line that used to traverse through our village center. But the banks are severely eroded and the stream bed has sunken through downcutting – its ability to connect via the culvert to the other side of the road is uncertain. It appears to have no real purpose.

tamery92415We have a stormwater ordinance, but it only addresses unpermitted or unallowed non-storm water discharges to the storm drainage system and the procedures to carry out all inspection, monitoring and enforcement activities. We do have a Shoreland Zoning Ordinance that addresses stormwater runoff for new construction and development in the designated Shoreland Zones, which is a good start, but I’d like to see our town become more creative and proactive in stormwater management to protect our water resources from existing development and include green infrastructure requirements for new development such as permeable paving, bioswales, and rain gardens.

For those of us with daytime jobs working on the state and/or federal level, local government can be a bit of a mystery and riddled with small town (or big city) politics that inevitably complicate efforts to manage watersheds on a local, regional or state level. It can be arduous and frustrating. But it is on the local government level that the boots hit the ground. We saw that first hand with Hurricane Sandy. One of the biggest oversights that were identified after the disaster was the gap in efforts to empower local communities and engage them in resiliency and preparedness planning efforts. Educating and empowering local communities to become more sustainable (environmentally, economically and socially) is critical in our efforts to achieve many of our regional, state and national goals. The benefits of a healthy urban watershed are numerous and well documented in this respect.

stream92415Part of the problem in Gorham, like many communities, is that we don’t have anyone in town government with expertise in watershed planning or to advocate for the development of ordinances or efforts to address our impaired waterways. It’s really not on anybody’s radar. Even if it was, we don’t have money in our budget to hire outside experts. What many communities don’t realize, however, is that there are multiple federal, state and private foundation resources available for planning, technical and construction support (see the links below). The Association of State Wetland Managers will also be hosting a free webinar on Wetland Restoration in Urban & Highly Disturbed Landscapes on Wednesday, October 13th at 3:00pm eastern time.  For more information and to register, click here.

I have many ideas of ways to improve Gorham’s sustainability and one of them is to begin the discussion and raise awareness about our impact on our watershed health – and I encourage you to do the same in your local community. You don’t have to run for Town Council, but you can make a difference by offering your expertise and knowledge to your local government by participating in committees and boards, attending town council meetings, meeting with the staff of your planning departments or volunteering for your local land trust. As a resident you can build those personal relationships with your local community. So For Peat’s Sake, I challenge you to make a difference on the local level. Every great movement or idea starts with a seed – and it’s a lot of fun to watch it grow!

Links for Information & Resources:

ASWM’s Natural & Green Infrastructure webpage

Green Infrastructure Center

US EPA’s Green Infrastructure webpage

The Conservation Fund’s Green Infrastructure webpage

The American Planning Association’s webpage on Green Infrastructure Planning

American Society of Landscape Architecture’s Green Infrastructure webpage

American Rivers Green Infrastructure webpage

This entry was posted in conservation, green infrastructure, Land use planning, Maine, outreach, stormwater, streams, sustainability, urban wetlands, watershed management. Bookmark the permalink.

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