NHDES Rolls Out New Wetlands Permit Mapping Tool

Stefanie M. Giallongo

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

As many municipal officials are aware, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

(NHDES) is in the process of updating the Wetlands Rules. The rollout of a new mapping tool, the NHDES Wetlands Permit Planning Tool (WPPT) is anticipated to coincide with the release of the new rules in the spring/summer 2019. The WPPT is designed to assist municipalities, the general public and environmental consulting firms as they plan projects that require an NHDES Wetlands Permit.

The WPPT is an online mapping program that will provide users with a wide array of information at their fingertips, including data and information on inland and coastal resources, to help applicants visualize and better understand the potential resource impacts of a project.

The WPPT will assist anyone in understanding the potential impact of a project on water quality, the presence of wildlife and fishery habitat, plus the general suitability of a particular site for development. It gives users the ability to envision their project or their property in a landscape context.

The revised wetlands rules require applicants to review certain map screening layers and the WPPT will assist in determining whether the project, based on its location or layout, would trigger a different permitting process. For example, if a project is located within a Designated River Corridor or a municipally-designated Prime Wetland then it would be subject to a different level of technical review and may require a different set of application materials. The information to make that determination is readily available in the Layer List, located under the Resource Planning and Priority Resource Area groups.

Themes have been organized to help guide users directly to the information that pertains to their specific type of project. For example, an Inland Development project does not typically need to reference coastal information, so the set of coastal data layers is omitted from the Inland Development theme. A Forestry theme is planned for Forestry Notification projects to filter the information to only what is required by that specific permit process. This is intended to facilitate navigation and usability of the WPPT for those particular project types. If a user would rather browse and visualize all of the available data layers at once, they may simply use the default theme.

The WPPT has been developed by NHDES in partnership with NH-DOIT, NH GRANIT, the University of New Hampshire and supported by a capital grant to facilitate inter-agency data sharing platforms. The WPPT also facilitates a continuing effort to consolidate the wide array of information that Wetlands Permit applicants are required to reference when planning a project. Since spring 2018, the WPPT has undergone several rounds of improvements and testing periods through extensive internal and external review. Development has resulted in several new data layers in addition to centralizing existing information from other online resources.

Highlights of the new WPPT include:

For the first time, wetlands permit data will be available on an online map for the general public. NHDES Wetland and Shoreland Permit point pop-ups provide links directly to file-specific information on NHDES OneStop.

Also for the first time, the WPPT displays municipally designated Prime Wetlands in digital format, with the ability to differentiate between those with and those without state-regulated 100’ prime wetland buffers.

• Location of Priority Resource Areas(a new term in the revised Wetlands Bureau Administrative Rules) including sand dunes, tidal waters, peatlands (bogs), prime wetlands and floodplain wetlands adjacent to Tier 3 streams.

• Easily determine the tier classification of a proposed stream crossing project by looking up the size of a contributing watershed drainage area at any point along a river or stream, just by clicking on the stream line pixel.

• Plan your project for predicted sea level rise and marsh migration by exploring the suite of Coastal Layers also including eelgrass and shellfish beds.

• Several datasets have been equipped with pop-ups to quickly display the relevant attributes of a given feature with just one click.

Anyone will be able to access the WPPT through the NHDES Wetlands Bureau Technical Assistance webpage using almost any browser from either mobile or desktop devices (Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Apple/iOS or Android/Chrome). The Welcome panel includes helpful links to the NHDES Wetlands Permit Planning Tool User Guide, metadata, FAQ’s, contact information and direct links to the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau DataCheck Tool (a required step for most NHDES Wetlands Permit application types). The WPPT includes a suite of features and tools to support users, including distance, query, and identify functions to explore the data layers, plus the ability to create printable maps for any project area. Metadata for every dataset will be readily available through either direct links in pop-up boxes or on the NH GRANIT or NHDES websites. Every user is required to read the metadata completely before using the data.

Users will be required to acknowledge a disclaimer before accessing the map, but every dataset is then readily available on the WPPT without login requirements or secure credentials. This is intended to maximize accessibility while also highlighting the importance of ground-truth for site-specific wetland delineations, precise feature locations and pertinent setbacks. The WPPT was not designed for legal, engineering or surveying purposes though it is highly suitable as a screening tool to inform landowners of the resources in the vicinity of their projects and to promote avoidance and minimization of impacts during the planning phase.

Keep an eye on the NHDES website (www.nh.des.gov) for an official announcement of the launch this spring/summer!

Stefanie M. Giallongo is a Wetland Specialist in the Land Resources Management Bureau, Water Division, at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. Stefanie can be reached by phone at (603) 559-1516 or by email at Stefanie.Giallongo@des.nh.gov.