FRESHWATER WETLANDS PROTECTION ACT RULES
N.J.A.C. 7:7A

SUBCHAPTER 3 LETTERS OF INTERPRETATION

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7:7A-3.1 Basic LOI information
7:7A-3.2 Presence/absence LOI
7:7A-3.3 Line delineation LOI
7:7A-3.4 Line verification LOI
7:7A-3.5 Application for a letter of interpretation
7:7A-3.6 Effect, duration, and extension of a letter of interpretation


7:7A-3.1 Basic LOI information

(a) A letter of interpretation (LOI) provides the Department's official determination of one or more of the following:

(b) A letter of interpretation does not grant approval to conduct any regulated activities. The sole function of a letter of interpretation is to provide or confirm information about the presence or absence, boundaries, and/or resource value classification of freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters.

(c) The Department issues the following three types of LOIs:

(d) If an area with hydric soils has been drained for farming purposes through the use of drainage structures or features such as tiles or ditches, the Department shall presume that the area has wetlands hydrology for the purpose of identifying a freshwater wetland under N.J.A.C. 7:7A-2.3. To rebut this presumption of wetlands hydrology, all drainage structures shall be removed or completely disabled and the area shall be left undisturbed for at least one normal rainfall year, after which the presence or absence of wetlands hydrology shall be determined through use of technical criteria, field indicators, and other information, in accordance with the 1989 Federal manual.

(e) Each LOI that indicates the presence of freshwater wetlands will state the resource value classification of the wetlands under N.J.A.C. 7:7A-2.4 and will specify the width of the transition area. However, in some cases, seasonal conditions make it difficult to determine the resource value classification of a wetland. For example, if there has been a past sighting of a bog turtle (an endangered species) in the area, and an LOI application is submitted in December when the early successional habitat needed by bog turtles may be impossible to identify under snow cover, Department staff cannot determine if the habitat remains suitable for bog turtles until the snow melts. In such a case, the Department will notify the applicant that seasonal conditions do not permit an accurate assessment of resource value, shall provide an explanation of the seasonal conditions involved, and shall give the applicant the option to accept an exceptional resource value classification, or to wait for the LOI until the Department can determine the resource value of the wetland.

(f) The Department shall issue an LOI within the applicable time period below. Average time periods from the Department's receipt of an application to a final decision on the application are set forth for all approvals at N.J.A.C. 7:7A-10.1(k):

(g) The Department will issue an LOI for a portion of a site, also called a footprint of disturbance, under N.J.A.C. 7:7A-3.2(c)2 or N.J.A.C. 7:7A-3.4(b)2. Special application requirements will apply to such an LOI, in order to ensure that the portion of the site is clearly marked on the plan and on the ground. These requirements are described at N.J.A.C. 7:7A-10.3(b) and (d)4.

(h) The Department shall not issue an LOI if the Department determines that the information submitted in the application for the LOI is inaccurate. In such a case, the applicant may provide corrected information upon the Department's request, or may apply directly for a permit without obtaining an LOI. If the applicant applies for the permit without first obtaining an LOI, the permit application must include all information that would be necessary for the Department to issue an LOI for the site, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:7A-10.4(a)2, 10.5(a)1, or 10.6(a)2, as applicable. The Department will then review the submitted wetland delineation as part of the permit review process.

(i) In order to ensure that a delineated wetlands boundary can be located in the future after the LOI is issued, an LOI applicant shall provide the Department with a survey of the approved delineated wetlands and/or State open waters boundary line. The survey may be submitted as part of the LOI application, or if the applicant prefers, the survey may be submitted after the Department inspects the site and approves the delineation as marked on the site with flags or other markers. If the Department requires adjustments to the delineated wetlands and/or State open waters boundary after the survey is submitted, the applicant shall resurvey the delineated boundary after the adjustments are made and the Department has approved the boundary. The issued LOI will reference the approved and surveyed boundary line. The Department shall waive the survey requirement if the applicant demonstrates that the extent of wetlands and/or State open waters on the site can be easily determined in the future without a survey, so that the expense of a survey is not warranted. For example, the Department may waive the survey requirement if an entire site is covered completely with freshwater wetlands and/or State open waters.

(j) If an LOI covers only a portion of a site in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:7A-3.2(c)2 or 3.4(b)2, the applicant shall provide, in addition to the survey required at (i) above, a survey of the boundaries of the portion of the site that are covered by the LOI.

(k) If a site is located in an area under the jurisdiction of the Pinelands Commission, the Department shall not issue a letter of interpretation. The lead agency in this area for determining the presence, absence, or extent of freshwater wetlands is the Pinelands Commission. However, in cases of disagreement, the Department and the Pinelands Commission retain authority to independently or jointly establish these boundaries.

7:7A-3.2 Presence/absence LOI

(a) A presence/absence LOI identifies whether any freshwater wetlands, State open waters or transition areas exist on a site, or on a portion of a site (footprint of disturbance). A presence/absence LOI also provides the resource value classification for any wetlands on the site.

(b) A presence/absence LOI does not identify the boundaries or location of any freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters found within a site or portion thereof. To obtain an LOI indicating the location or the boundaries of freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters, an applicant must apply for a line delineation LOI under N.J.A.C. 7:7A-3.3, or a line verification LOI under N.J.A.C. 7:7A-3.4.

(c) The Department shall issue a presence/absence LOI for either of the following:

(d) The Department shall issue a presence/absence LOI for more than one portion of a site, provided that:

7:7A-3.3 Line delineation LOI

(a) A line delineation LOI identifies the boundaries of any freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters on a site or a municipal tax lot that is one acre or smaller, and identifies the resource value classification of any freshwater wetlands on the site. For a line delineation LOI, the applicant need not submit a delineation. Rather, the Department will inspect the site and delineate the boundary lines of any freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters.

(b) The Department shall issue a line delineation LOI for a site, as defined at N.J.A.C. 7:7A-1.4, or for a municipal tax lot, that is one acre or smaller. The Department shall not issue a line delineation LOI for a site larger than one acre. The Department shall not issue a line delineation LOI for a portion of a site, unless the portion is a municipal tax lot.

7:7A-3.4 Line verification LOI

(a) A line verification LOI identifies the boundaries of any freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters on a site, and the resource value classification of any freshwater wetlands on the site. For a line verification LOI, the applicant must submit a proposed delineation of wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters, which the Department will confirm or modify.

(b) The Department shall issue a line verification LOI for the following:

i. The site is publicly owned;

ii. The site is larger than 10 acres;

iii. The portion is no larger than 10 percent of the overall site; and

iv. The portion is clearly marked on the plan and on the ground.

7:7A-3.5 Application for a letter of interpretation

(a) An applicant for a letter of interpretation shall follow all application procedures and information requirements at N.J.A.C. 7:7A-10, Application contents and procedures.

However, if a site is located in an area under the jurisdiction of the Pinelands Commission, the applicant shall instead apply to the Pinelands Commission for a determination regarding the presence, absence, and/or extent of wetlands on the site; and the transition area for any wetlands on site.

(b) The Department shall review an application for a letter of interpretation using the procedures at N.J.A.C. 7:7A-12, Department review of an application.

(c) The Department, in reviewing an application for an LOI, shall consider comments filed by municipal and county governments and interested citizens. Comments should be submitted to the Department in writing within 15 days after the commenter receives notice of the LOI application, to ensure adequate time for the Department to fully consider them. However, comments will be accepted until the Department makes a decision on the application.

7:7A-3.6 Effect, duration, and extension of a letter of interpretation

(a) A person who is issued a letter of interpretation pursuant to this subchapter shall be entitled to rely on the determination of the Department, concerning the presence or absence, or the extent of freshwater wetlands and/or State open waters, for a period of five years from its issuance, unless the letter of interpretation is determined to have been based on inaccurate or incomplete information, in which case the Department may void the original letter of interpretation and issue a new letter of interpretation reflecting the actual conditions on the site. For example, the LOI may be revised to reflect additional wetland areas identified after LOI issuance; or if a threatened or endangered species habitat is disclosed or discovered after the LOI was issued, the Department may correct the resource value classification.

(b) The term of a letter of interpretation may be extended, provided that the information upon which the original letter was based remains valid, but shall not exceed five years from the original expiration date.

(c) Requests for extensions shall be made in writing to the Department before the letter of interpretation has expired but no more than one year before the expiration date and shall be subject to the application requirements at N.J.A.C. 7:7A-10. Applicants will be required to submit a new application if an extension is not applied for prior to the expiration date of the letter of interpretation.