Michael A. Aurelia
Director, Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency of Greenwich
Greenwich, Connecticut

Michael A. Aurelia, an awardee in the local government category, has served as director of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency of Greenwich, Connecticut, since 1974.A native of Connecticut, Aurelia earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from The Johns Hopkins University in 1969, and a master’s degree in geological sciences from Brown University in 1972. In 1973, he was the director of wetlands and water protection for the Connecticut Conservation Association (CCA) before assuming his present position. Aurelia was also a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers. He lives in Greenwich with his son, Adam.Aurelia has made a major contribution to wetland protection through the development of a wetland protection program in Greenwich—a program he built from scratch. In his first three years at Greenwich, working out of make-shift offices, including one next to the cell block in the town police building, Aurelia was a one-man operation: alone, he conducted all the field investigations and follow-up, ensured compliance, and wrote court testimonies. Today, with a staff of three full-time professionals, part-time interns, and clerical support, Aurelia directs one of the most protective local wetland regulatory programs in the country, with virtually no net loss of wetlands despite intense development pressure.Under Aurelia’s leadership, Greenwich has adopted a very conservative freshwater wetland and riparian habitat protection policy. The Agency discourages the filling of any wetlands or watercourse area in the town and seeks to preserve undisturbed buffers of varying widths depending on the nature of the watershed and the proposed activity. If an activity is proposed on a property containing wetlands or watercourses, or if the activity could reasonably affect adjacent regulated areas, the Agency requires a permit or a letter of permission. When the Agency does authorize the filling of a wetlands, some form of mitigation is required. This mitigation usually involves the creation of new wetland areas in a compensation ratio of 2 to 1. Other forms of mitigation can include the enhancement or restoration of disturbed wetland areas or the enhancement of adjacent buffer areas through the planting of native vegetation.Some of the innovative and effective strategies that Aurelia has developed to protect wetlands include minimum setbacks in drinking water and non-drinking watersheds to create and protect natural buffers adjacent to wetlands and watercourses; special permit conditions to ensure that construction activities do not intrude on regulated areas; close coordination of Agency actions with the Greenwich Department of Public Works’ Building and Engineering Divisions, the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Conservation Commission; augmentation of the Agency’s permit compliance program through the use of cash permit compliance bonds (the cash compliance program creates an added incentive on the part of the permittee to comply with permit conditions); and a requirement that all permit recipients record the presence of wetlands in the town’s land records to ensure that all subsequent landowners are aware of the regulated areas on their property.In addition to his work in Greenwich, Aurelia has continued to assist the CCA as well as other nonprofit environmental organizations in the evaluation of environmental impacts on wetland and watercourses. He is the founder of the Applied Ecology Research Institute, a nonprofit environmental organization designed to assist citizen and conservation groups and state and local governments in evaluating development impacts.— Elliot Schneiderman, New York City, Bureau of Water Supply, Valhalla, New York