What’s a Wetlands Specialist?

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Whats a wetlands specialist

As good buildable land becomes scarcer, land speculators are increasingly running into new (and older filled) wetland issues. What’s even more surprising is the impacts old-filled wetlands are having on older homes that “Flippers” like to fix up. As NJ is basically a “Swamp State”, Speculators, Flippers, and homebuyers would be wise to partner with a Wetland Specialist. This particular environmental constraint is only getting more complicated that if not addressed properly literally could turn your project into a swamp.

Why is Understanding Wetlands So Important?

Wet old basement

Understanding when that “older home” you want to “Flip” was built might help you address why that rear yard is “Squishy”, that basement is “Wet”, the house is “Sinking”, that “Wetland Permit” is no good, and that septic system is failing. Green sites (raw land) have even more restrictions as they are subject to Planning Board review (Not just the Construction Department). If you are just buying a home, existing wetlands may impact your ability to install a pool,  

With the introduction of the Clean Water Act in 1975, Freshwater Wetlands became protected and the practice of filling wetlands started to end. Regulated by the US Army Corps of Engineers in most States, NJ took on the responsibility of regulating their own wetlands in 1989. Think you ‘Got Wetlands”, learn more here.

Don’t Forget the Permits

It depends, but if you are building a pool, a “Footprint of Disturbance” LOI usually works. But be careful, most consultants will give you the most expensive LOI, not the most cost-effective one. 

Your local construction office is a good place to start but might steer you wrong as wetlands are a State matter. Local municipalities have no Jurisdiction over wetlands. You can call the State NJDEP or a Wetland Scientist to get the real facts explained to you.

The local construction office may try to be helpful and tell you that a wetlands permit is needed. That’s following the State Planning Process of “Cross Acceptance”. But what if they don’t give you that advice? 

Just because the local Construction office didn’t mention needing a Wetland Permit does not mean one is not needed. Only a Federal Wetland Permit (or State Wetland / Letter of Interpretation / LOI) can definitively delineate the limits of a wetland. 

Wetlands Frequently Asked Questions

Not sure if speaking with the EPA, the NJDEP or the Local Construction office is the best route to go for your project. Or, maybe you just want to have a “discrete” conversation about a potential investment. Or, you recognize that a Wetland Scientist is needed for your project. Here are some questions that we typically get when Wetlands are the topic of discussion:

1) How fast can you provide a quick Wetland review?

Usually within a few hours. We recognize that when you call us, you need answers fast as your deal is on the line.

FYI – We have the ability to tap into public environmental databases like: State and Federal Soil Mapping and Wetlands Inventory Mapping that we offer as a courtesy to our clients. That “Public Data” can often give us a good idea of what the wetlands look like. But remember, it’s just part of the issue you are dealing with.

2) What is the cost of your assistance?

Not as much as you might think. A wetlands “File Review” for sites less than 2 acres costs around $500.

FYI – Good Due Diligence is worth every penny you pay for it. “Failing to Plan” for your Due Diligence efforts is the best way to ensure you “Plan to Fail”.  

3) What’s the Best Wetlands Service you provide?

Most folks get the best value out of an “Uplands Assessment Report” to be used as part of your Property Due Diligence

FYI – This is a proprietary GWE service that involves a formal File Review, verify/modify wetlands on-site via a pedestrian inspection, give an idea of uplands areas and how best to develop the property in lieu of the numerous Environmental Site Constraints often encumbering wetland sites.  

4) If the land could be buildable, what additional items on top of ordinary Township requirements need to be considered when a wetland is present?

Building one house is almost always allowed. But may not make financial sense. 

FYI – The buildability of the lot would totally come under the jurisdiction of NJDEP where the following items might come into play: Wetland Mitigation Bank, Wetland Offsets, Hardship Waivers, Individual Permits, Wetland General Permits, T&E Species Impacts, Alternative Septic System Requirements, etc.

5) I’ve done some research. What clues does the attached map offer?

Wetlands appear to have been formally delineated, a Wetlands Permit (Letter of Interpretation) issued, but can’t see if the Permit is still valid. 

FYI – Watch out, two separate wetland transition areas (aka: buffers) appear to have been assigned. Map quality is poor and exact details are unknown.

Wetland post card frog 2021

6) What “distance” is required from the edge of the wetland to the driveway, and to the house or other permanent structure?

The “Distance” is a Wetland Buffer (Formally called a “Transition Area”). 

FYI – They can range anywhere from 0 feet (A man-made ditch / Ordinary Value) to 50 feet (Typical wetland buffer / Intermediate Value) to 150 feet (T&E species are present / Exceptional Value) depending on the “Resource Value” classification of the wetlands.

7) Which agencies’ approval is required on top of ordinary Township requirements.

If we are only taking into consideration “wetlands” then it would be NJDEP.

FYI – The USACOE would get involved if Federal Priority Wetlands are also involved. And don’t forget about your septic/sewer needs.

8) Is a traditional septic system allowed when a wetland is nearby?

It depends on the soil profile and your definition of how far “nearby” is. 

FYI – Conventional Septic Systems usually require a 2-foot separation from the Seasonal High Water Table and the bottom of the leach field. If the 2 feet of separation can’t be obtained a “Mounded” septic system might be needed. If surrounding soils don’t pass the “percolation test” then an “Alternative Septic System” might be needed.

9) The property slopes down from the cul-de-sac and levels off in a fully wooded area to rise again as marked on the map as the Upland. I walked through the property last weekend and it was dry at this time even in the lower areas.

It’s not unusual for non-wetland trained individuals to walk through what appears to be a dry site that is in fact all wetlands. 

FYI – Wetlands are defined via the three-parameter methodology established by USACOE. Wetland Vegetation, Wetland Soils, and Hydrology. For the most part, you need two of the three parameters to be classified as a wetland here in NJ.

10) I do notice the presence of multiple, shallow man-made ditches approximately 3’x 5′ that have been filled with water, which makes me believe that groundwater is high in the lowest areas.

Man-Made ditches through wetlands are very common as farmers often created “drainage swales” to help the land drain. Many times they do hold water as the water table in a wetland (the Hydrology part) is within 15 inches of the surface.

FYI – Man-Made Ditch Wetlands are often the type with a 0-foot buffer. But watch out for old farm fields. They often have special considerations regarding the farmer’s historic attempts at eradicating the wetlands.

Wetlands Got You Confused

Welcome to the club. That’s what we are here for. While it’s pretty easy to think you can do this all on your own, it takes way longer than you think to do it on your own. And addressing environmental matters defies conventional rational logic. This is one profession that literally “makes no sense” to everyday folks.

Trust us, we’ve seen countless family projects like additions and new pools get crushed under the burden of environmental regulations. Don’t let that happen to you and call GreenWorks to help.


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Victor Coppola

Victor Coppola is a Building Biologist with decades of diverse environmental experience spanning natural resource management and contaminated sites to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and building hygiene matters. He focuses on the three most prevalent issues degrading today's built environment: Moisture Odor & Mold (M.O.M.). Mr. Coppola and his Team are sought out by individuals and professionals concerned about IAQ to those actually suffering from Biotoxin Illness. His hybrid blend of environmental interests and services enable him to give a unique perspective into today's changing environment. Think your home is killing you, better call Victor and his Team at GreenWorks.
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