Update on the Boston Wetlands Ordinance

Written by Isabella Gambill, Senior Policy Advisor on Climate, Energy, & Resilience

In January 2020, Boston enacted the Wetlands Protection Ordinance, which grants the City greater authority to protect its wetlands habitat throughout Boston’s neighborhoods. While wetlands provide critical habitat to many species, they also are important natural climate solutions to storing floodwater, filtering stormwater run-off, producing oxygen and improving air quality, and reducing the “urban heat island” effect.

Once the Wetlands Protection Ordinance was passed in early 2020, the associated wetlands regulatory process began within the Boston Conservation Commission. Due to the complexity of wetlands regulations in an urban environment, the regulatory process is split into 3 phases, as follows:

  • Phase I: Procedural Regulations – In August 2020, the Conservation Commission adopted procedural and administrative regulations within Phase I, which outline the process for submitting an application and receiving a permit. To read the Phase I wetlands regulations, see here.

  • Phase II: Performance Standards – (currently under review) Phase II will create a set of regulations for 1) isolated vegetated wetlands, or wetlands that are not adjacent to open water, 2) vernal pools and vernal pool habitat, or small depressions that seasonally fill with water, and 3) land subject to coastal storm flowage, which is equivalent to the 100-year floodplain. To read the proposed Phase II regulations please see here, and to submit a public comment on the proposed Phase II regulations, see here.
  • Phase III: Climate Resilience and Environmental Justice – Phase III will be initiated shortly, and will address the climate resiliency, climate equity, and environmental justice components of the Ordinance. In order to inform the Phase III regulatory process, the City created a Community Advisory Board (CAB) to be key partners and advisors in shaping a more inclusive City-led process, and in drafting the Phase III regulations and associated guidelines. Key focus areas for Phase III and the CAB will include: climate resilience, coastal flood resilience zone, inland flood resilience zone, extended riverfront area, and, importantly, climate equity and environmental justice. To see materials from the first session of the CAB for Phase III, see here.

A Better City submitted written comments on the Phase II regulations of the Wetlands Protection Ordinance in July 2021, which can be found here, and we will continue to follow and engage with anticipated Phase III regulations as they advance through the Conservation Commission. We are also advocating for alignment of the Wetlands Protection Ordinance regulatory process with parallel city policies like the coastal flood resilience overlay district (CFROD), as an example.

For any questions related to the Boston Wetlands Ordinance and/or A Better City’s comments, please contact Isabella Gambill

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