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Wetlands Mitigation Credits Not All Wet

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA are pushing wetland mitigation banks, but are they the best solution?

The Clean Water Act protects wetlands to the extent that there be “no net loss of wetlands” due to development, whether at the hands of private entities or state departments of transportation. If a developer dries out x number of acres for a housing development, for instance, the developer is required to develop a wetland of the same acreage elsewhere. That, however, has proved a difficult requirement for developers.
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Developers now generally find it more practical to pay another landholder to do the job elsewhere, what are called wetland mitigation banks. From such entities, developers buy “wetland credits” to offset the loss of wetland acres from such development. Or so the theory goes..

An illuminating article on this subject was published in the Dec. 2007 issue of The American Planning Association: “Banking on a Loss” by Craig Pittman. Mr. Pittman and fellow St. Petersburg Times reporter Matthew Waite won an award from the Society of Environmental Journalists in 2007 for a series of articles on mitigation banks.

In the APA article, Mr. Pittman details the scope of mitigation banks and their inherent problems. He explains there are more than 400 mitigation banks in Florida alone. It is the job of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to issue “wetland destruction permits” and to inspect mitigation banks to ensure the bank land holdings are actually creating wetlands. Of note is a 1991 act that allows state DOTs to use federal funds to create mitigation banks.

Pittman reports that Florida state officials “have allowed 10 mitigation banks to claim a third or more of their credits for merely saving dry land…” He adds: “… state officials spent $2 million on dry land at Lake Louisa while wiping out Central Florida swamps…” FDOT has been Lake Louisa’s largest customer.

Pittman says the Corps and EPA jointly proposed regulations in 2006 to encourage developers to use mitigation banks instead of mitigating wetland loss on their own. While the Feds are banking on mitigation banks, there are mounting concerns that the system is not working properly, that it is a cash cow and perhaps not the best option. Pittman reports: “A study of 12 Ohio mitigation banks by that state’s environmental department found that four were total flops, five were partial failures, and only three could be call successful.”

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June 15, 2019, 10:28 pm PDT

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