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Legislative Update
March 21, 2001

ASSEMBLYMAN ROBERT G. PRENTISS INTRODUCES WETLANDS HOMEOWNER'S RELIEF ACT

Comprehensive legislation submitted to protect private property owners and taxpayers

Led by Assemblyman Bob Prentiss, a coalition of Legislators has just introduced a series of wetlands reform bills that would grant substantial relief to property owners and taxpayers while preserving environmental protections under New York State's Freshwater Wetlands Law. The hallmarks of the bills are two key proposals to protect taxpayers and grant relief to wetlands homeowners.

The legislation was prompted by the DEC's overzealous re-mapping of wetlands in Saratoga County in 1999, which added wetlands restrictions to over 4,200 parcels. Five area Legislators joined Assemblyman Prentiss to introduce the bills in early March, and still others representing Districts around the state are co-sponsoring the bills. After rallying for reforms of the state wetlands law for two years, homeowners in Saratoga County have organized a formal task force to represent wetlands property owners.

Legislators have received many complaints that even though the use of private property is greatly restricted by DEC's determination of jurisdictional wetlands, the taxes on the property are seldom reduced.

The first bill in the package, A. 5934, would make a simple amendment of the Real Property Tax Law to provide for separate assessment of jurisdictional wetlands.

The bill makes it inexpensive and relatively simple for the property owner to go to small claims court to challenge his wetlands assessment. This simplified method of judicial review would provide well-justified relief to the taxpaying homeowner, without compromising protection of wetlands.

A new proposal entitled the "Wetlands Homeowner's Relief Act" (A. 5935) takes the concept of a "buffer zone" from the wetlands law and uses it to create an area around an already-existing house where the homeowner is allowed to make improvements and do normal maintenance without having to go through the expensive process of applying for a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

"The concept in the new bill just submitted to grant relief to the wetlands homeowner grew out of many grassroots meetings, and is a fair way to balance the need for regulatory stability for homeowners against the protection of the environment," said Carol W. LaGrasse, the president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, a voluntary grassroots organization, based in Stony Creek in Warren County, which responded to the wetlands re-mapping in 1999 by starting a statewide "New York Wetlands Justice Project."

The five bills address other major difficulties that property owners have experienced with the State wetlands regulation by making the process of appeal of wetlands determinations more friendly to the property owner and by directing DEC to implement the voluntary cooperative agreement program originally enacted in the 1975 wetlands law to provide compensation for property owners.

Introducing the comprehensive legislative package with Assemblyman Prentiss were Assembly Members Townsend, Tedisco, Wertz, Little, and D'Andrea. The legislation is currently multi-sponsored by Acampora, Bacalles, Barraga, Burling, Butler, Calhoun, Casale, Crouch, Kirwan Murray, Seaman, Stephens, Straniere, F. T. Sullivan, and Warner.

The full text of Assembly Bills A. 5934 through A. 5938 can be viewed on the New York State Legislature web page: www.senate.state.ny.us

Action Items:

Carol W. LaGrasse
March 21, 2001

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