Sunday, December 21, 2014

Middletown’s Environmental Planner Position De-Funded by Common Council

Recently, it came to light that the City of Middletown’s key staff position responsible for a wide variety of environmental functions – permits, regulation enforcement, grants, wetlands protection, etc. – was actually not funded in the current fiscal year budget. Michelle Ford was hired for the position this past fall. She is widely recognized as a highly skilled and knowledgeable professional. Members of Ecoin (the Environmental Collective Impact Network) are thrilled to have her on board.  The fact that she was hired without underlying funding in place was clearly a simple oversight by Director Michiel Wackers and Mayor Dan Drew, both of whom have accepted responsibility for the mistake and apologized.

It is unclear how the position came to be defunded.  Was it a temporary budgetary matter, since the position was vacant after the departure of Matt Dodge last April? But what is clear is that this position is critical to the operations of the City and environmental protection.  Especially now, when the city is seeking brownfield remediation grants and redevelopment of the riverfront, it is extremely important that funding be restored. Citizens can send all the members of the Common Council an email through the address  Attendance, support, and testimony for restoring the Environmental Planner position at the Jan. 5, 2015, 7 p.m. Common Council Meeting is strongly encouraged.

Below is an extended excerpt from John Hall’s letter to members of the Common Council on this issue. 

I am writing to you because I believe it is strongly in the interests of our City to restore funding for this position. The staff of the City is already stretched, even with the Environmental Planner, to oversee all that is taking place that could threaten our waterways, wetlands, and the quality of life and health for all residents, human and non-human. But without an Environmental Planner, the City’s ability to implement and enforce existing environmental safeguards will be virtually non-existent.  The grants that the City will receive through the work of the Environmental Planner will easily exceed the cost of the position. Frankly, I cannot understand how or why the position was de-funded, and if you have anything to tell me about that, I would very much like to hear from you about it.

Below is a list of functions that the Environmental Planner performs. Michelle Ford, the current Environmental Planner, is a highly qualified, committed, and widely respected environmental professional whom we are fortunate to have. 

·         Provides project review, applicant assistance, and staff comments to the IWWA for projects within and proximal to wetlands and within the 100’ upland review area
·         Assists members of the public with questions regarding land development and site constraints pertaining to natural resources such as wetlands and watercourses
·         Manages brownfields grants, currently the PCD oversees over half a million dollars in DECD grants. The environmental specialist’s role is to manage the implementation, execution and reimbursement of those grants to ensure that the work is done, done within the confines of the regulations and that the City is reimbursed from the grant.
·         Serves as a staff liaison to the Conservation Commission to assist in Commission projects, particularly open space acquisitions, land management, and grant applications, implementation and oversight.
·         Serves as advisory staff to the Wetlands Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, Conservation Commission and Mayor’s Select Committee on Waterfront Development
·         Manages open space projects, such as the Wilcox Forest Management initiative which the PCD dept. is in the process of pursuing now with Tom Worthley
·         Reviews Environmental Site Assessments (Phase I, II, and III) documents for environmental compliance, liability, and cleanup goals.
·         Works with other City departments to advocate for and ensure protection of the City’s environmental resources, in particular wetlands, watercourses, and protected species habitat
·         Conducts construction and site inspections to ensure environmental compliance, particularly in areas such as storm water runoff, wetland boundary infringement, etc. This role is to support to ZEO.
·         Seeks new grant and funding opportunities to complete environmental, brownfield, and beautification projects in the City.
·         Delineates and review wetland delineation boundaries on behalf of the City for the Inland Wetland & Watercourses Commission, if necessary.
·         Conducts biological surveys, habitat assessments, and make recommendations on wildlife habitat management, if necessary.

I strongly urge your consideration of this matter, with hope that you will support and encourage other members of the Common Council to restore funding for the position of Environmental Planner. 

Thank you,

John C. Hall

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