By Katherine Donlevy
After voting to dissolve the Environmental Conservation Commission and then reinstating it a month later, the Gardiner Town Board has drafted a new law to transform it into a Conservation Advisory Committee.
“The proposed law would replace the existing Environmental Conservation Commission law,” Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic clarified at the Nov. 10 meeting.
Drafted by Deputy Supervisor Laura Walls, the law would establish a volunteer council to advise in the development, management and protection of the Town of Gardiner’s resources. The mission states it would serve as the “go to” source for evidence-based documentation on the natural environment and be a source of data to be used by town municipalities such as the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Open Space Commission, Town Board and applicants for land use proposals.
The new law, still in the drafting process, came after Walls proposed temporarily dissolving the ECC in September. She claimed the commission was barely functioning and only had three members in spite of a seven-person quorum required by the town code. The Town Board and ECC would take the time between its dissolvement and reinstatement, scheduled for Jan. 21, to brainstorm ways to give the commission more power.
The board had voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, but all the members save Walls reversed their opinion after Majestic pointed out that pause may be illegal. The ECC, as a legally-mandated municipality, needed to be available to make referrals to the Planning Board on land use applications according to the town’s code.
The CAC law, Walls hopes, would address the issues initially outlined months ago.
“How is it different?” Walls responded to board member Warren Weigand’s question on how the commission and council differ. “I think it gives a lot more clarity as to what the powers and duties are, what the authorities are or are not and really creates more structure for an organization to work within. It aligns them with the [Department of Environmental Conservation] program ... this will enable them to get a bit more assistance through the DEC.”
Majestic pointed to one change — Zoning code did not bind the Planning Board to follow ECC advise, but the CAC law states, “Upon receipt of a request from a Board, Commission or Committee of the Town of Gardiner, the CAC shall, at a duly called meeting, discuss the request, timeline, and other factors to determine if the request can be fulfilled and is consistent with the mission of the Council and the intent of this local law.”
The council will consist of seven members and requires a minimum of four to conduct each meeting. Each member will serve a seven-year term with the possibility of reappointment. One member will serve as the council’s chairperson, though the term for the role will only last one year. All positions are volunteer.
The question of staffing the soon to be formed council was discussed at the Tuesday meetings, though the Town Board was weary of conducting interviews until the law was finalized.
“If we’ve got a relatively close draft, even if it’s not completely finalized, I think it’s something that still sort of paints the picture of what the CAC will be, and it will be sufficient enough to hold conversations,” he said. “It’s similar enough [to the ECC] and we’re close enough on a draft that I don’t know if it would hurt to start to meet with individuals so that one day one they could hit the ground running.”
Wiegand added that, when interested parties submit applications, the Town Board could respond with the most recent draft and ask for suggestions and comments as well as a promise to put them on the potential member list.
The Town Board set a tentative public hearing on the CAC law for its Dec. 8 meeting, though it could be pushed back until January. Priority to submit questions will be given to ECC members ahead of the hearing, so a third draft will be available at that time. The second draft is available on the Town Board’s website.