Permitting fees for riverbank campground likely to stay in Hadley

  • Campsites along the Connecticut River in Hadley. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2021

HADLEY — Permit fees for recreational vehicles to be allowed on campsites along the Connecticut River are unlikely to be reduced, despite complaints from property owners about the high costs of going before the town’s Conservation Commission.

At Wednesday’s Select Board meeting, Conservation Commission Chairwoman Paulette Kuzdeba defended the fees as mandatory under the state’s Wetlands Protection Act, as the fees for the so-called notice of intent filings, required when there is any potential altering of wetlands, are set by the state.

“What we’re trying to do is get the most affordable permit application,” Kuzdeba said, explaining that projects within 100 feet of the river require applications that inform the commission about the type and boundaries of wetland resource areas and the proposed work.

The $110 per camper filing fee is the closest match to a category that includes applications for single-family home improvements such as a deck, swimming pool or shed, Kuzdeba said.

“We chose that category because… it’s the lowest category fee there is,” Kuzdeba said. If placed in another category, such as one for applying to construct single-family homes, the fee would jump to $500 per camper.

A week earlier, the Select Board heard from property owners expressing shock that the town’s renewed oversight of the estimated 100 trailers along the river was getting expensive, between the filing of notices of intent and paying for legal advertisements and certified notices to abutters.

Hadley officials formed the River Bylaw Committee over the winter as a way to bring the town’s 1987 flood overlay district bylaw into conformance with updated Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations. As part of this, the committee recommended changes to the bylaw that will come before Town Meeting in May that will assess each campsite $100 every three years, and require 2,500 square feet for each site and 25 feet of space between each RV. The revised bylaw also allows more than one camper per property.

Under that, inspections related to life safety will be done by Building Commissioner Thomas Quinlan Jr., Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel and the Board of Health.

Select Board Chairman David J. Fill II said he questions whether it is appropriate to consider RVs as structures, but Kuzdeba said that placing a camper on boards and mats for weeks or months is a change to a property. “That right there constitutes an alteration,” Kuzdeba said.

The $110 fee also can’t be waived, with half the money going to the state and the other half to the town for administrative expenses, including offsetting the salary of conservation agent Janice Stone.

“We don’t have the ability to waive that fee,” Kuzdeba said.

Quinlan said one frustration from applicants is that there is no way of consolidating the notice of intent for each campsite on a property into one permit filing, and no members of the commission ever informed the River Bylaw Committee about these costs during discussions about the revised bylaw.

“This is a lot of money for those poor people who have had them for 30 to 40 years on the riverfront,” Quinlan said.

But Kuzdeba said each camper has to be considered a separate activity.

“The Conservation Commission is required to enforce the laws of the commonwealth, and that’s what we are doing,” Kuzdeba said.

She added that it was unfortunate that questions about these costs never came up when the bylaw committee met. “I apologize if that was not made clear,” she said.

Select Board member Joyce Chunlgo said she hopes people better understand the permitting process and will pay the fees and abide by rules when using sites this summer.

“I want people to be enjoying the Connecticut River,” Chunglo said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.