Conservation Permits: Wetlands Protection
The Town of Lexington regulates wetlands and floodplain protection in accordance with the terms of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (M.G.L. 131 Section 40 A) and the Town of Lexington's Wetlands Protection Code (PDF). The Environmental Protection Agency/United States Army Corps of Engineers also regulates activities in wetlands through the Clean Water Act.
Wetlands include streams, ponds, marshes, wet meadows, bogs, swamps, and other wet areas, as defined by the Wetlands Protection Act
To apply for a Conservation Permit, go to the Town of Lexington's Online Permitting System, OpenGov/ViewPoint Cloud.
Permit applications will only be accepted through the online application portal. Hard copies will not be accepted.
You can apply for:
- Notice of Intent / Order of Conditions
- Insignificant Plan Change / Conservation Plan Modification
- Amendment to Order of Conditions
- Extension to Order of Conditions
- Certificate of Compliance (PDF)
- Request for Determination of Applicability / Determination of Applicability
- Order of Resource Area Delineation
- Conservation Administrative Review - for administrative review by the Conservation Staff (site visit included)
- Conservation Hazardous Tree Permit - to allow for the removal of hazardous trees bordering conservation land or within protected resource areas
- Conservation Land Use Permit - for the approval of Conservation Land for event use
If you are requesting records from a Conservation filing prior to 2018, please contact the Conservation office for assistance as those files may not be available through OpenGov/ViewPoint Cloud.
- Go to Lexington's online permitting system, OpenGov/ViewPoint Cloud.
- On the upper right-hand side you will see three options; "Search", "Login" and "Sign Up". You must create and account and be logged in to view any records.
- To search for a Conservation permit, you can either search by Location (address) or by Record number (ex. CNOI-21-56, AOOC-19-5).
- Once you click on the property, it will bring you to the locations online file. There may be many permits for that location depending on the type of property (i.e., commercial, residential, etc.).
- If the applicant has filed with the Conservation Commission, they will have filed for one of the following permits: Notice of Intent, Determination of Applicability, Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation, or Certificate of Compliance.
- Once you click on the application, you can view all information submitted. To view plans, click on the "Files" tab. You will be able to view and download the plans for the project. If revisions are made to the plans, they may be uploaded in the same spot or uploaded as a separate attachment.
- The Clean Water Act (Federal) (PDF)
- The Wetlands Protection Act (Commonwealth of Massachusetts)
- Wetlands Protection Act Regulations (Commonwealth of Massachusetts) (PDF)
- Wetlands Protection Act Regulations Appendices (Commonwealth of Massachusetts) (PDF)
- Wetland Protection Code (Town of Lexington) (PDF)
- Wetland Protection Code Rules (Town of Lexington) Amended September 13, 2021 (PDF)
- Policy for Administrative Reviews for Minor Activities (approved 10-3-2022)
Other Helpful Documents
- 2023 Conservation Commission Meeting Calendar
- Continuance Agreement (PDF)
- Determination of Applicability Fee Transmittal Form (PDF)
- Fee Schedule (Effective 3-1-2023) (PDF)
- Feno Anchored Survey Markers (PDF)
- Legal Notice Charge Authorization Form (PDF)
- Notice of Intent Filing Fee and Transmittal Form (PDF)
- Plant Materials Guide for Lexington (PDF)
- Pre-Construction Checklist (PDF)
What is a wetland?
Legally, the term wetland includes not only what we typically think of as wetlands, such as streams, ponds, and cattail marshes, but also areas such as wet meadows, red maple swamps, and intermittent streams that may be dry for a significant portion of the year. The technical definitions may be found in the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and its accompanying regulations, and for the most part are based on the occurrence of surface water and/or the abundance of specific wetland plants.
What is a floodplain?
A floodplain is an area that experiences surface flooding during storms. Two types of floodplain areas are protected under the state act. The more common areas are those bordering streams or ponds that flood during the 100-year statistical storm, which is the worst storm that can be expected to occur, on average, once every 100 years. The less common areas are isolated depressions that flood at least once a year to an average depth of 6" and to a volume of one-quarter acre-foot (10,890 cubic feet).
What activities are regulated in wetlands and floodplains?
Under the law, no one may "remove, fill, dredge, or alter" any wetland, any floodplain, or any land within 100 feet of a wetland without a permit from the Lexington Conservation Commission. The term "alter" is defined to include any destruction of vegetation, any change in drainage characteristics or flow patterns, or any change in the water table. Examples of activities requiring a permit include construction of a house, garage, or shed, filling to enlarge a backyard, installation of drainage ditches, and disposal of landscaping debris and other materials.
Why are wetlands and floodplains so important?
Wetlands are afforded legal protection because they play an important role in overall environmental quality through: protecting the groundwater and the private and public water supply; controlling pollution by acting as a filter for removing sediments, nutrients and other pollutants from runoff; reducing storm and flood damage by providing areas to retain and store water; and as habitat for fish and wildlife. Over half of this country's original wetland acreage has been lost to agricultural and urban development. The cost of this loss in degraded water quality, increased storm damage, and depleted fish and wildlife populations have been well documented. Floodplains are protected because they provide "storage" for floodwaters during storms. Any alteration to the land that reduces this storage capacity will displace floodwaters and cause greater flooding elsewhere. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of damage to property and even loss of life through the cumulative effect to incremental filing of floodplains over the years.
How can I find out if my property lies in or near a wetland or floodplain?
Some wetlands, of course, are easily recognizable: streams, ponds, and cattail marshes, for instance. Distinguishing other wetland areas may be more difficult and can require the services of a trained botanist. The Conservation Director in the Land Use, Health and Development Department may be able to assist you in identifying areas of wetlands on your property. There are a number of engineering firms and wetlands consultants that can provide this service for a fee. If you wish to develop your land, the wetlands on or near your property must be mapped. The floodplain map for Lexington issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency shows the floodplain associated with major streams in town. Follow these instructions for viewing the map online. Unfortunately, the map is far from complete, and many floodplain areas are not indicated. If your property lies near a stream or in a lowlying area, there is a chance that part of it is flood-prone. Previous applications to the Conservation Commission may assist you in determining the 100-year flood level on our property, but in some cases a professional engineer must calculate this elevation.
What must I do if I want to conduct a regulated activity in or near a wetland or floodplain?
The first thing you may want to do is contact the Conservation Director in the Land Use, Health and Development Department. The Director and staff can explain the law more completely to you and its effect on the particular project you have in mind. Regulations issued under both the state act and Lexington's Wetlands By-Law should be consulted, as they contain specific standards that you should incorporate into your project design. If your project does not meet these standards, your application will be denied. The next step is to submit a formal application, known as a Notice of Intent, to the Conservation Commission. Although the Commission operates under two laws (the state Wetlands Protection Act and the local By-Law for Wetlands Protection), one form serves as your application for both and all proceedings are held simultaneously. The Commission will set a time within 21 days for a public hearing on your project and will advertise the hearing in the Minuteman at your expense. Once the public hearing is closed, the Commission must issue its decision, known as an Order of Conditions, within 21 days. For small projects located only in the 100-foot wetlands buffer, there is a simper, alternative application process. A landowner or other interested party may submit a form known as a Request for Determination of Applicability to the Commission. The Commission is bound to hold a publicly advertised meeting within 21 days to discuss the matter and issue a decision. The applicant is given permission to proceed as soon as the ten-day appeal period lapses for projects with no wetland impact.
What if I don't agree with the Order of Conditions?
If you or other interested parties are unhappy with the Order of Conditions, the Order may be appealed. Since the order is issued under both state law and local by-law, the appeal involves two routes. Under the state act, appeal is first to the regional office of the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Woburn, which will consider the appeal and issue what is known as a Superseding Order. Further appeal of this Order is possible, first to the Boston office of DEP, and then to Superior Court. Under the by-law, appeal of the Commission's Order is directly to Superior Court.
What are the penalties for violating these laws?
Violation of the town's By-Law for Wetlands Protection carries a maximum penalty of $300 for each violation or each day of continuing violation. Under the state act, violations are punishable by a maximum fine of $1000 and six months imprisonment per day of continuing violation. In addition, a landowner is usually required to restore any illegally altered land to its original condition.
How can I get more information?
Contact the Conservation Director in the Land Use, Housing and Development Department, or an attorney, or a consulting engineer. If you wish to read the law, the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act may be found in Cary Library (Mass. General Law Chapter 131, Section 40) or online; the regulations promulgated pursuant to it are available from the State House Bookstore (310 CMR 10.00) or online. The local code and its accompanying regulations may be obtained from the Land Use, Housing and Development Department, at Cary Library, or online: code,regulations.