Inland Wetlands Program
The Inland Wetlands Program affects nearly 50 percent of the Town’s 19,000 acres on 7,000 parcels of land by regulating inland wetland and setback areas being impacted as a result of development proposals. Program goals include reduced flooding, controlling sediment and erosion, protecting fish and wildlife habitat and improving water quality.
The Wetlands Compliance Officer is available at the Conservation Department counter Monday - Friday, 8:30 am to 10:30 am.
The regulation of inland wetlands and watercourses in the Town of Fairfield is a process initiated in 1974 by the State of Connecticut legislature under Connecticut General Statutes section 22a-42. The Fairfield Conservation Commission, acting as the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, implements regulations which the Commission adopted in 1974 and periodically amends the regulations.
The following two processes apply to the use, alteration, or construction upon properties which contain inland wetlands regulated areas. Maps and files denoting the presence of regulated areas are on file in the office of the Conservation Department. Anyone considering purchasing a property, building anything, or changing the character of the land is encouraged to call 203-256-3071, or to visit the Conservation Department to determine the possible effect, if any, of the Inland Wetland and Watercourses Regulations, and to pick up application forms and related information. The first two business hours in the morning, 8:30am - 10:30am, Monday through Friday are set aside for these general inquiries.
Town of Fairfield Inland Wetlands Permit Processes
Wetlands and watercourses are an interrelated web of nature essential to the adequate supply of surface and underground water; to hydrological stability and control of flooding and erosion; to the recharging and purification of groundwater; and to the existence of many forms of animal, aquatic and plant life. The wetland’s law provides for the protection and preservation of these resources and their values through an orderly permit review process.
The following information applies to the use, alteration, or construction upon properties which contain inland wetlands regulated areas. Maps and files denoting the presence of regulated areas are on file in the office of the Conservation Department.
Anyone considering purchasing a property, building anything, or changing the character of the land is encouraged to visit the Conservation Department during public hours, 8:30 am – 10:30 am, Monday through Friday, to determine the possible effect, if any, of the Inland Wetland and Watercourses Regulations, and to pick up application forms and other information.
Setbacks and Regulated Areas
Wetland soils and watercourses (ponds, streams, swamps, etc.) are regulated, as well as an upland (dry) review area, or setback, a horizontal distance from either the wetland soil or watercourse. The setback area around wetlands and watercourses varies depending upon location. Fairfield has 11 watersheds, each with its own setback distance:
|Horse Tavern Brook
|Sasco Creek Tributary
Please note many wetlands in Fairfield are not obviously wet at the surface and are therefore not obvious to the layperson. Many wetlands must be determined and delineated by a certified soil scientist. A setback under the wetlands process is not the same as a typical zoning setback. A setback is not a mandatory exclusionary area. Each disturbance proposal is reviewed individually and an individual buffer or setback distance from a wetland or watercourse may be determined to be necessary. The setback area is reviewed for its buffer functions, like water quality, wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and flood storage. Under Connecticut law, the setback/buffer/upland review area cannot be made exclusionary before a proposal is submitted—-it must be reviewed and decided upon for each project and that project’s expected impacts.
Certificates of Wetlands Conformance (CWC)
Certificates of Wetlands Conformance are administrative permits, issued by staff for construction and/or other site improvements or alterations on both commercial and residential properties which contain “regulated areas”. Regulated areas include wetlands and watercourses, and a setback area round them which varies depending upon location. Right now such setbacks extend from 30 feet up to 144 feet. Please note that many wetlands in Fairfield are not obviously wet at the surface and are therefore not readily apparent to the layperson. This is especially true in summer and winter so we strongly recommend checking our town wetland maps for all properties in town.
Typical projects involving this simple wetland permit process are building additions, pools, tennis courts, modifications to septic systems, minor conversion of woodland to lawn, and minor regrading.
For this expedited permit process to apply, all proposed work must be located outside of any actual wetlands or watercourses, but contain such resources or the setback regulated area. Typically, these certificates are processed within 65 days (note there is also a mandatory 15 day legal notice petition period). Fees start at $480.00 (not including State of CT $60.00 fee) with most fees between $830.00 and $3,200.00. If approved, additional fees starting at $160.00 apply; and examples of some conditions may be posting a cash performance bond, soil erosion and sediment controls, an on-site environmental monitor, and mitigation for adverse impacts most often involving the offer of Conservation Easements.
Inland Wetland Permit Applications (IWPA)
IWPAs are required when someone wishes to work or build close to wetlands and watercourses. Applications require highly detailed supporting engineering, survey, and ecological data. These applications are reviewed by Conservation Dept. staff, and acted upon by the Conservation Commission, acting as the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency.
It may take months of planning and investigation to prepare an IWPA. The decision process may take three months or more, may involve public hearings, and involve significant fees. Fees start at about $2,900.00 and are based on the activity, and amount of regulated area on-site. Typical fees range from $4,000.00 to $8,000.00 for single family developments. If approved, additional permit fees, starting at $2,890.00 apply.
To facilitate the development of complete and acceptable applications, the Inland Wetlands Agency staff offers, at no charge, “conceptual reviews” of basic development schemes without the submission of costly detailed designs. The only pre-requisite for this “concept review” application, is a soil scientist survey and report, and the property owner’s written consent. Staff will provide written comments and recommendations for the proposed development. This conceptual process is well-received by the building community, and staff believes it has led to more environmentally sound proposals.
Quite often the Inland Wetland Agency approves development proposals with conditions. Such conditions generally include cash performance bonding, soil erosion and sediment controls, an on-site environmental monitor, and mitigation for adverse impacts most often involving the offer of Conservation and Storm Water Detention Easements.
These Conservation Easements are deed restrictions limiting the use of land. Basically, most mean the land contained within the easement is not to be altered-—the land is to be preserved in its natural state forever. These easements have been commonly offered/required on developments since the mid 1960s.
Maintenance of Existing Structures
Some activities, including some maintenance activities, may be allowed “as-of-right”. Generally, these are uses incidental to the enjoyment or maintenance of residential property. Such incidental uses include maintenance of existing structures and landscaping, but shall not include removal or deposition of substantial amounts of material from or into a wetland or watercourse, or diversion or alteration of a watercourse. The Wetlands Agency determines what activity is “as-of-right”, therefore it is best to request a Declaratory Ruling (which is a simple 1-page form—with no fee) to be certain your activity is allowed or unregulated, prior to beginning any work.
Wetland violations result when a regulated activity is initiated without a wetland permit or certificate, or when such activity exceeds the allowed limit. Violations can result in considerable expense, and legal court action against the property owner, the contractor, and any other known party that commits, takes part in, or assists in any violation. A civil penalty of $1,000.00 for each offense is allowed per the Connecticut General Statutes, and in the case of a continuing violation, each day’s offense shall be deemed to be a separate and distinct offense. In addition, the Wetlands Agency may order the violation removed and restored, and all permit fees that would have been required, including all staff time to process and resolve the violation, to be paid. A violation is absolutely not a short-cut of the permit process to get an activity approved.
Inland Wetland Agency
Click here for information on the Inland Wetlands Agency