2008-01-17 / News

Conservation Commission wants island students and teachers involved with trails

By Michaela Kennedy

The Conservation Commission continued to discuss upcoming zoning changes and how they might affect island conservation efforts at its Jan. 10 meeting. The commission also began a review of its responsibilities listed in the town's natural and cultural resources action plan following a request by the Town Council.

Proposed updates to the zoning ordinance and guidelines for adopting form-based zoning policies should be available this month, commission chairman Christopher Powell noted. Powell asked the town planning department for a copy of the proposals when they are received from the planning consultants. When the drafts are available, the commission should work with town groups, review the changes, and come up with issues the board wanted to address. He would invite the town planner to attend a meeting of the Conservation Commission, he added.

A subcommittee formed by the commission is analyzing how zoning could be modified to promote conservation on the island, commissioner Mark Baker said. The committee has been researching conservation zoning and how it may be woven into ordinance updates. "We are not critiquing that form-based zoning is bad, but being procreative with conservation zoning," he explained. "I think there were a lot of uncertainties, but if we regard the center of the island as the downtown area, there are conservation areas to be considered. The zoning ordinance may be modified to fulfill or promote conservation in Jamestown."

Powell went on to talk about the community comprehensive plan. He noted that in a conversation with Town Planner Lisa Bryer, Bryer said the Town Council wanted to sit down with each town group and review each action plan section in the comprehensive plan. Powell handed out copies of the natural and cultural resources action plan. He asked board members to review policies and actions that mark the Conservation Commission with responsibility, and highlight priorities from high to low.

In a Conanicut Island Trails Guide update, Baker reported that about 150 copies of the guide have sold monthly, so far. The guide has been available since November at various retail outlets downtown. Baker talked to the board about planning a student orienteering contest on the nature trails for the first week in June. He suggested encouraging Jamestown teachers to involve students in a celebration of the trails around the island. A donation of a trails guide to every student would be included in the contest. "Students go out and find clues left on each trail. Each trail will have some clues on it that will lead to a prize. Those who get all clues on all nine trails will get a prize," he explained. "The whole objective of the trail guide is to get locals out there and use the trails. Even if the students don't get all the clues, they will still get a prize that they'll have a trail guide in hand."

Board members agreed that conservation did not have to be forced into a form-based zoning format, but rather expand on it. "By enabling legislation, it's our perrogative and responsibility to make suggestions on what changes could be made to the ordinance."

Powell pointed out that Smart- Code, the form-based zoning module that the town is currently reviewing, has an environmental module that might be a possibility for implementing suggestions from the commission.

In a discussion about the Round Marsh Restoration Project, commissioner Carol Trocki called for volunteers that would be willing to help monitor planning in the wetlands area this spring. Monitoring tasks will include vegetation sampling, water table checks, and mosquito sampling. "If folks are interested in helping or know if anyone who is interested, let me know," Trocki said. A proposed schedule, details on work to be done, and budget needs will be submitted at the February meeting.

In other business, Powell reported on his visit to last month's Wind Energy Committee meet- ing. He noted the committee had used some of the suggestions offered by the commission, but voiced concern that the committee would pre-select sites before an official request for consulting bids was posted. Powell urged more communication between the two groups.

Also in other business, commissioner Jennifer Talancy announced an invasive plant management certification program to be held at the Bay Campus of the University of Rhode Island. The two-day course, to be held Jan. 23 and 24, seeks to educate participants in regulations and techniques of managing invasive vegetation particular to the coastal buffer zone. "This is the first year this is being undertaken, and there are plans on having a course like this annually," Talancy noted.

In new business, Talancy reported a count of residential docks taken from a study of aerial photographs of the island between 1997 and 2003. In 1997, 46 docks were counted, and 63 docks were found in 2003. "That's a difference of 16 docks in six years," she noted. A majority of the docks, a count of 25, were located from East Ferry to the north end of the island. "I don't think people realize how docks are proliferating," Powell commented.

In a discussion about sole source aquifers Powell noted that Ellen Winsor called him to say the application to obtain a sole source aquifer has been revised, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled a public hearing in February at the library. Powell expressed disappointment that Winsor never responded to a letter sent to her by the commission. The letter listed three questions to be answered, including a request for a copy of the revised EPA application, which was also ignored by Winsor.

"The concept behind it (the designation) is good, but the problems are the strings that might be attached to it," Powell said. "For example, it would affect any road projects that would receive federal funding."

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