THE INDIAN SPRING LAND COMPANY v. INLAND WETLANDS AND WATERCOURSES AGENCY OF THE TOWN OF GREENWICH, et al., SC 19591
Judicial District of Hartford
Environment; Wetlands; Whether Inland Wetlands Agency has Jurisdiction to Regulate Road Construction Directly Related to Farming Operations. The plaintiff owns a 124 acre parcel of forest land in Greenwich. Forestry falls under the definition of “farming” set forth in General Statutes § 1-1 (q). The plaintiff filed with the defendant agency an application seeking approval to conduct forestry operations, including the abatement of invasive species, in the northeast portion of its property. In the same application, the plaintiff also sought approval to construct a gravel road with a concrete bridge span over a wetland area to gain access to the northeast portion of the property. The plaintiff claimed that the accessway was required to perform its forestry operations. The agency granted the application, but imposed several conditions on the road construction, requiring, among other things, that the road and the bridge be removed after the harvest season. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, claiming that the agency lacked subject matter jurisdiction to regulate the construction of the road under General Statutes § 22a-40 (a) (1). That statute, which is part of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act (act), provides that farming shall be permitted in wetlands and watercourses “as of right” but that “[t]he provisions of this subdivision shall not be construed to include road construction or the erection of buildings not directly related to the farming operation . . . .” The plaintiff argued that its road construction activities were permitted as of right under the statute because they were directly related to its forestry operations. The trial court rejected that claim, concluding that the phrases “road construction” and “not directly related to the farming operation” in § 22a-40 (a) (1) were not intended to be read together. The court construed the word “or” in the above quoted passage as disjunctive and concluded that the statute provided two separate exceptions to the farming exemption, namely, “road construction” and “erection of buildings not directly related to the farming operation.” It thus determined that the phrase “not directly related to the farming operation” was applicable to “erection of buildings” but not to “road construction.” The court added that its interpretation of the statute was consistent with the overall legislative purpose of the act to protect wetlands. The court dismissed the appeal, ruling that the agency properly determined that it had jurisdiction to regulate the plaintiff’s road construction activities. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that § 22a-40 (a) (1) does not confer jurisdiction upon an inland wetlands agency to regulate road construction when it is directly related to forestry activities and when the road construction does not require any filling, relocation, or reclamation of inland wetlands or watercourses. The plaintiff maintains that its interpretation of the statute gives effect to the state's public policy of encouraging the preservation of forest land and farm land.