In Exeter, Another Vote for Clean Water

Jeff Barnum

By a wide margin, the citizens of Exeter, New Hampshire, recently rejected a move to reduce the size of wetland buffers in their community. As I discussed in a recent blog, buffers are an important tool for protecting both the health of our wetlands and water quality. Considering the significant challenges facing our Great Bay estuary, reducing these types of protections would have been taking us in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, a group of residents, Exeter Citizens for Responsible Growth, successfully campaigned over the last few weeks to convince voters that an ordinance change promoted by the planning board, selectmen, and the economic development office – all to accommodate new development on the Epping Road Corridor – lacked transparency and adequate public review. Kudos to the citizen’s group, and to the Exeter Conservation Committee, which advised against the proposed ordinance change.

Exeter citizens influencing the vote on March 10.

Exeter citizens stand up for clean water on March 10.

As Great Bay–Piscataqua Waterkeeper, I find it heartening to see local residents once again standing up for clean water. It was a pleasure working with local citizens and the Conservation Commission, and I’m grateful to members of our Clean Water Advocates for Great Bay group who worked with me to support the Exeter group’s effort to educate the public and to urge voters to safeguard existing wetland protections.

Buffers are essential to protecting the many valuable functions of our wetlands, such as flood control, wildlife habitat, and filtering out pollutants from runoff. Given Exeter’s pending need to comply with the EPA’s town-wide, nitrogen-control plan – part of the town’s final permit for its sewage treatment plant – a move to minimize buffers now is the opposite of what is needed to control and decrease nutrient pollution.

While the effort to reduce wetland buffer protections in Exeter is almost certain to continue, last week’s outcome is another example of what a small group of concerned citizens can accomplish, and another sign that people on the Seacoast care about clean water. Congratulations to them!

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