ORANGE - At its meeting last week R. Scott Allen, the wetlands enforcement officer for Orange, recommended that the number of Inland Wetlands and Water Courses Commissioners be reduced from nine to seven. His recommendation, which was presented at the IWWC Commission meeting, was approved by that commission following discussion. Allen intends to present the proposed change to the Board of Selectmen at a future meeting.

Allen requested a reduction in the size of the commission after reviewing attendance at meetings over the last few years. According to those figures, it was a rare occurrence to have all nine commissioners at a meeting. The result of this survey revealed that meetings with all commissioners in attendance occurred in the following ratios: one of 27 meetings in 2004, two of 21 meetings in 2005, three of 17 meetings in 2006 and 0 of 22 meetings in 2007. As of 2008, neither of the two meetings held so far had a full attendance.

Walter Bespuda, who has been a commissioner for 34 years, explained why the commission was so large to begin with.

"Originally we had nine because there was a lot of activity going on. There isn't a heck of a lot of development that's going to be going on now."

Allen supported that comment saying, "That reduction is noticeable in the number of applications in the last four years."

Allen mentioned that the continued poor attendance interfered with attaining a quorum of five, the number needed to conduct the business of the commission. If the commission was reduced to seven, only four members would be needed for a quorum.

Allen also pointed out that applicants had to supply 14 sets of plans for the commission. Allen said, "That's a tremendous amount of wasted paper."

One of the commission members, Lesley Giovanelli, expressed concern with reducing the numbers. She felt that having the input of the various members was important "as the town is growing."

Allen agreed, but commented, "If they don't show up, that diverse group doesn't do any good."

The IWWC Commission was established in 1974 via a town ordinance. That ordinance called for a commission of nine members to enforce state regulations regarding the protection of inland wetlands and water courses. The state deemed these "an indispensable and irreplaceable but fragile natural resource."

Wetlands serve several important functions: they help to purify runoff water; they control flooding and erosion; and they provide necessary habitats for wildlife and plants.

In a unanimous decision, the commission voted to reduce the commission members to seven. Allen originally thought this action would require a charter change. According to Vincent Marino, the town attorney, however, the change would involve a town ordinance and not the charter.

Marino said that a plan to change an ordinance would require a public hearing, which the Board of Selectmen would probably schedule at its March meeting. He added, "Ultimately, it is the decision of the Board of Selectmen."