Being on a Board

The Tidal Wetlands Act (Wetlands Act) was enacted in 1972 and helps to regulate wetlands in the Commonwealth. The Wetlands Act authorizes localities in Virginia (cities, counties, or towns) to adopt a wetlands zoning ordinance and establish a local wetlands board.

Find out more about the purpose of local wetlands boards, the role each board serves in their particular locality, and the general procedures which the boards should follow...

Purpose of the Board
  • Each local wetlands board acts as a steward of the Commonwealth by protecting wetlands within the locality.
  • The local wetlands board has a duty to preserve and prevent the devastation and destruction of wetlands within its locality while permitting certain, necessary economic development in a manner consistent with wetlands preservation and any standards set by the Commonwealth in addition to those identified in § 28.2-1308 to ensure protection of shorelines and sensitive coastal habitats from sea level rise and coastal hazards, including the provisions of guidelines and minimum standards promulgated by the Commission pursuant to § 28.2-1301 of the Code of Virginia.
  • Local wetlands boards balance the need to preserve existing wetlands with the use and development of wetlands. The local wetlands board meets this balance by deciding whether to grant, grant in modified form, or deny a permit for certain uses and activities which impact wetlands within its locality.
Know your Role
  • Volunteer citizen advisory boards, such as local wetlands boards, are an integral part of American local government and help plan the future of communities. Citizen boards bring together community views that might not otherwise be heard. They are made up of persons of wide-ranging expertise and interests who seek to participate in public service and the betterment of their localities.
  • Serving on a local wetlands board is an important responsibility. Wetland boards represent the Commonwealth's interest in shoreline resources and board issued permits are, in most cases, the official Commonwealth permit for actions within tidal wetlands, beaches and dunes. In addition, the locality relies upon these boards to make fair decisions that will increase a locality’s environmental stewardship. For this reason, it is crucial that members of a local wetlands board strictly adhere to the purpose and process of the board when making decisions.
Be a Board Member
What is required to be on a Board? (residency, education, and training)
Each wetlands board member needs to be a resident of the locality in which they will serve. Typically there are no requirements by a locality to serve on a wetlands board – however some demonstrated interest in the environment, shorelines, coastal erosion, or marine related issues is helpful and valuable.  Prior training to serve on a wetlands board is not essential – although an interest in learning about your role and the issues you may confront as a board member is essential.  VIMS offers regular training to wetlands board members and local staff on a wide variety of topics and holds an annual workshop which allows for board members, local staff, and others interested in shoreline issues to interact and share information.
Can Board members hold other positions?
Board members may not hold public office within the locality.  Each locality may have different requirements concerning wetlands board members holding other appointed positions.  As an example, in some localities, wetlands board members also serve as members of the local planning or zoning commission; the local erosion commission; the local board of zoning appeals; a board established by a local government to hear cases regarding ordinances adopted pursuant to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and its regulations; or as director of a soil and water conservation board.  Other localities specify members may only serve on one appointed board.
What is Board member compensation?
Each locality may handle compensation for board members in different ways. Some receive a small stipend for each meeting attended; others may receive a meal should a meeting overlap lunch or dinner hours, or reimbursement for mileage to visits to application locations. Many localities provide some funds for assisting with training and attendance at VIMS workshops.  Still other localities do not provide any kind of compensation to board members.
What is the site visit process for Board applications? 

Wetlands boards handle site visits in various ways. Board members are strongly encouraged to visit sites in advance of a hearing and with the applicant present. Some boards hold a monthly application site visit attended by multiple board members and organized and attended by local board staff. Board members also often visit sites on their own. In any case, it is best practice to always try to contact the applicant in advance of a planned visit as a courtesy, as well as have some documentation (business card or letterhead) from your locality proving that you are a wetlands board member. In cases where a visit occurs and the applicant is not present, it is best to leave a note that you have visited and include your contact information.

More than three board members meeting for any reason - including site visits - requires the locality to issue a public notice of that meeting. Information on posting requirements and deadlines for doing so are provided under Conduct a Hearing > Hearing Procedures > Public Hearing. In those instances where the normal public notice process cannot be accommodated, every effort should be taken to advise the general public of the site visit as early as possible. An example of this utilized in some localities is for the local wetlands board staff to post a notice of the site visit on a notice board located in a prominent public space, such as the hallway or lobby of the offices which support the local wetlands board, or the lobby of the main local government building.  A notice can also be posted in the chief administrative offices of the county, city, or town, and the office of the county, city, or town attorney.
How do you get appointed to a Board?
Wetlands board members are appointed to terms of service by their locality, i.e. Board of Supervisors, City Council, and Town Council.  It is important that a board member be sworn into office by the County or City Attorney.  It is also important to learn about your term limits – beginning and ending dates of service.  Your locality should also be able to provide you with other pertinent information such as a roster of board members, a schedule of regular meetings, and contact information for your local staff members who supports the board.
What are the length of appointment and term limits for Board members?
Length of appointment and term limits vary widely among localities.  Terms typically run from 3-5 years in duration.  Some localities allow for a member to serve multiple consecutive terms, while others do not.  It is important to learn about your locality's policies regarding term limits, disclosure requirements, appointment time periods and reappointment guidelines.  If for some reason while serving as a board member you are no longer able to serve, make sure that you contact your local governing body – preferably by a letter stating why you can no longer serve and when you are planning to step down.  That way the local governing body can make a new appointment to fill your unexpired term of office.
Structure of the Board
  • A local wetlands board can be composed of five or seven members. One to three alternative members must be selected to serve in the place of an absent member at a board meeting to ensure that a quorum can be achieved at every meeting. For any action to be taken at a local wetlands board meeting, a quorum of either (1) three members of a five member board, or (2) four members of a seven member board is necessary.
  • Board members serve for a five-year term and may serve more than one term. If a member’s term expires before a replacement has been selected, that board member will continue to serve until a successor is selected.
  • Local wetlands boards conduct a variety of actions: permit applications hearings, violation hearings, administrative matters, closed meetings (or executive sessions), and informal sessions.  See Conduct a Hearing.
  • There are various requirements of the board to ensure public awareness and participation in board actions. These requirements include public hearings, a full public record of proceedings, and an annual report of activities to the board’s local governing body.
  • In acting on any application for a permit, the board shall grant the application upon the favorable vote of three members of a five-member board or four members of a seven-member board. The chairman of the board, or in his absence the acting chairman, may administer oaths and compel the attendance of witnesses at hearings.
Board Decision Reviews

An appeal or review of a Board decision may necessitate your attendance at those proceedings.

Review by the Commission
Within ten days of a local wetlands board’s decision, the applicant or Commissioner may request a review, or twenty-five property owners may petition the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to review a decision. The VMRC must modify, remand, or reverse the decision of the local wetlands board if the local wetlands board fails to fulfill its responsibilities or if its findings, conclusions, or decisions prejudice the substantial rights of the appellant or applicant. The VMRC will notify the parties of its decision within 48 hours of the appeal or review hearing.

Additionally, an applicant or property owner may appeal the VMRC’s decision to the Circuit Court in the locality where the local board made its decision.

Review by the Circuit or Appeals Court
It is rare for a wetlands permit decision to be appealed to the Circuit Court or to the Court of Appeals. The Circuit Court is often deferential to the local wetlands board’s decision. As long as a local wetlands board can point to “substantial evidence” in the record to support their decision and that decision is within the local wetlands board’s field of expertise, the court will likely confirm the decision. Because the court does not do any fact finding of its own, but instead reviews only the administrative record, it is critical that local wetlands boards develop a robust administrative record.

A decision by the local wetlands board or the Virginia Marine Resources Commission is likely to be overturned by a court if (1) the decision can be fairly characterized as arbitrary or capricious and, therefore, a clear abuse of delegated discretion; or if (2) the decision to grant or deny a permit is based upon procedural grounds.  A local wetlands board can avoid making a decision that is arbitrary or capricious by considering all pertinent factors and not basing its decision on one single factor. As for the latter category of decisions likely to be overturned, the court is not willing to give an agency deference when a decision is based upon a procedural ground  because the court views procedure and application of the law as its area of expertise and not that of the local wetlands board or the VMRC. To avoid this categorization, a local wetlands board should not proceed with a decision when a procedural error has occurred.  
Integration with Other Programs

Local wetlands boards always need to make sure that they are looking at wetlands as defined in the Tidal Wetlands Act. The determination of the boundaries of tidal wetlands under the jurisdiction of the board is the responsibility of the board. In addition to local wetlands boards, other programs, and agencies including Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) have policies in place to protect tidal wetlands. Although each program touches on the wetlands in some way, each program has differing definitions of key terms in tidal wetlands protection discussion, which contributes to ongoing confusion.

More information on other programs, can be found on these tabs: Laws & Jurisdictions, and Permit Information

Know Your Resources
Training and Continued Learning
  • 2019 WorkshopAnnual Wetlands Workshops are held for the tidal shoreline management community in Virginia. These events cover a variety of scientific, policy and management topics as well as offer networking opportunities.
  • CCRM also offers classes on request for shoreline management topics of interest including, estuarine ecology, the latest shoreline guidance, and GIS tools.  Contact [[v|karend,Karen Duhring]], to schedule a training session that can be customized to fit your locality’s specific needs.
Wetlands Boards

Meeting times and contact information by locality - Local Wetlands Boards

Administrative Fees
Fees charged for permits, advertising and in-lieu compensation by locality - 2020 Administrative Fees