Island town conservation commission members were pleased Monday with what they said were clear and useful instructions for handling state building code changes in state wetland areas.
New construction and major renovations and additions to buildings in designated wetlands must be built on open pilings rather than on conventional solid foundations, according to changes to the state building code that took effect Jan. 1.
Since then, conservation commissions and building inspectors have been wrestling to correlate the new code with six different types of construction and five different wetland zone designations.
On Monday morning, Lealdon Langley, director of the state wetlands and waterways program, briefed about two dozen people, mostly Island conservation commission members, at a workshop held by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission at its offices.
No Island building inspectors attended the meeting, but conservation commission members from all six Island towns did.
Several applauded state efforts to simplify wetlands protection by providing a color-coded matrix of five separate wetlands designations. The matrix also explains how the new regulations affect the six different type of building construction in each type of wetland.
Mr. Langley also previewed detailed maps that show updated wetland boundaries by communities.
He displayed mapping software, provided to each Island town, which allows viewers to manipulate maps to see regional and town topography down to individual lots. The program also color-codes shoreline wetlands areas, using 2005 data.
“These tools clarify so much we’ve been struggling with,” said Oak Bluffs conservation officer Elizabeth Durkee.
Martha’s Vineyard Commission member Bob Ford said, “Last year, we — and the builder or homeowner — had to know and explain four sets of regulations rather than looking at this,” he said, tapping the construction code matrix.
The construction changes, designed to resist floods, affect building inspectors and conservation commissions as well as homeowners, their engineers and architects, Mr. Langley said.
Existing structures do not have to conform to the changes. But he said new buildings, changes to existing foundations and additions of more than 50 per cent of existing buildings in flood plain areas will be required to be built on pilings that will allow water and migrating sand dunes to pass through.
A further refinement of the law will require pilings to be two feet above the flood elevation levels that have been set by the state. The rules comply with the national flood insurance program, the federal emergency management agency and international building codes, Mr. Langley said.
An additional benefit of the new regulations, Mr. Langley said, is that common language has been adopted for both building permits and conservation commission orders of conditions.
That common language was adopted to prevent issuance of permits for building construction which did not meet conservation commission standards, which he said can occur in coastal communities.
Mr. Ford simplified the process further with rule-of-thumb advice he will continue to offer to builders and homeowners: “If you can see water from the front porch, come see us.”