EPA has ordered the restoration of more than 17 acres of freshwater wetlands in Whately, Mass. The forested and scrub wetlands were altered in the course of preparing land for new farm fields.
The farmer, James Pasiecnik, owns J. M. Pasiecnik Farms on about 157 acres of land in Whately. Beginning in 1984 and continuing through 2005, Mr. Pasiecnik and workers operating under his direction grubbed, graded, filled, and altered approximately 17.3 acres of wetlands next to farm fields at several locations on his farm. Mr. Pasiecnik failed to obtain a federal permit under the Clean Water Act (CWA) authorizing the discharges of dredged and fill material into the wetlands. Under the CWA, persons wishing to discharge dredged and/or fill material into wetlands must obtain federal permits from the Army Corps of Engineers in most cases, including when expanding farm fields.
Under the Administrative Order, Mr. Pasiecnik is required to restore the disturbed 17.3 acres of wetland to its previous state. The Restoration Plan requires Pasiecnik to remove all dredged and/or fill material and ensure that the land is returned to pre-disturbance conditions. The Administrative Order also directs Mr. Pasiecnik to consult with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on appropriate irrigation practices that will minimize impacts, such as lowering the water table, to wetlands in the future.
Additionally, Mr. Pasiecnik is required to fill a trench, measuring approximately 1,400 linear feet, along the western edge of the farm fields. After all grades have been returned to pre-disturbance conditions, the disturbed wetland areas will be seeded with a wetland conservation seed mix and shrubs and trees, and be allowed to revert back to their natural wetland state. The Administrative Order also prohibits Mr. Pasiecnik from taking actions that might inhibit natural vegetative growth.
The wetlands on Mr. Pasiecnik’s property are located in the terraces of the Connecticut River, and are adjacent to streams flowing to the Connecticut River. The terraces, streams and wetlands formed over thousands of years as the course of the Connecticut River changed.
Wetlands provide large volumes of food that attract many animal species. These animals use wetlands for part of or all of their life-cycle. Dead plant leaves and stems break down in the water to form organic material which feeds many small aquatic insects and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.
In addition to providing valuable wildlife habitat, wetlands also help to protect the health and safety of people and their communities. Wetlands filter and clean water by trapping sediments and removing pollutants. Wetlands also provide buffers against floods as they store enormous amounts of flood water. Wetlands also store and slowly release water over time, helping to maintain water flow in streams, especially during dry periods.