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Correspondent

AYER — Residents on Sandy and Long Ponds have been advised by the Conservation Commission that enforcement of long-established Public Waterfront Act portion of state law Chapter 91, requiring docks located on great ponds to be licensed, is now being enforced.

At an Oct. 23 public hearing, commissioners explained the law, the Wetlands Protection Act, and made plans to have residents meet with Department of Environmental Protection representatives to fill out the required paperwork.

A great pond is defined as any natural pond, not created by a dam, that comprises at least 10 acres. Both Sandy Pond and Long Pond qualify and the Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over any work done along their shorelines.

Commission Chairman William Daniels explained that commissioners have attended several information meetings concerning Chapter 91 and learned that the law has been on the books since 1864.

While the law had not been enforced until recently, a further complication is that both bodies of water are located in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Consequently, both ponds must have Resource Management Plans (RMP) in place by Dec. 11, 2009 in order for dock licenses to be acquired.

While the law had not been enforced until recently, a further complication is that both bodies of water are located in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Consequently, both ponds must have Resource Management Plans (RMP) in place by Dec. 11, 2009 in order for dock licenses to be acquired.

“This Is not meant to scare anyone,” Daniels said.

The ConsCom has put together information for mailings to residents that contains instructions on applying for a simplified Chapter 91 license. Cost is $65 plus a $40 local advertising fee to cover the cost of a Conservation Commission Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) hearing. A simplified license lasts for 15 years.

According to commissioners, residents who do not have a dock but may want one or desire to expand an existing dock in the future may apply for a dock license.

Licenses are attached to properties by recording them at the Registry of Deeds, which allows potential future owners to have a dock.

“Taking on a project of this magnitude (creating an RMP for the ponds) is not something we have the resources to do,” Daniels said, adding that the state has suggested the formation of local pond associations to do the work.

Daniels said ownership of an unlicensed dock would put residents in jeopardy with the state. He said commissioners realize they have been negligent in not requiring RDAs for docks.

“This board is not required to enforce Chapter 91, but we do enforce the Wetland Protection Act,” he said, and the commission would be required to issue notices for violation.

At least one resident said the requirement felt as if their freedom is being taken away and expenses added.

Daniels said he agrees with the sentiment and the commission intends to help residents comply.

“This is not our law. We did not make this up,” he said.

DEP circuit rider Jennifer Gensel, who was in attendance, said the law exists to prevent people from blocking public access to the ponds. She offered to return for a meeting within the next few months to help residents fill out forms, adding that a basic drawing of their dock is required.

At that time, residents will be able to conduct a RDA hearing together, thus reducing the cost of advertising for a public hearing. The meeting date will be published on the commission’s Web site, posted in its office, at Town Hall, and in newspapers.

Commissioner David Bodurtha encouraged pond-side residents to talk with commissioners, since the state is becoming stricter with enforcement.