When Restoration Goes Bad

Environmental restoration is only as good as the design — which is only as good as the professional who provides it.  In fact, sometimes damaging work can be done in the name of “environmental restoration”  It is hard to tell what caused the situation described in the Daphne, Alabama stream project described in the article below — bad intent or bad design. However it happened it shows the tendency to call all sorts of activities “restoration” good or bad.  Nice job of this local newpaper to blow the whistle:

Daphne Agrees to Restore Damaged Wetlands

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

By Ben RainesStaff Reporter 

Acknowledging that restoring the stream called Yancey Branch will take years, Daphne officials on Tuesday pledged to replant and restore wetlands and tread more carefully in such habitats in the future.

In recent months, Daphne officials used federal grant money for emergency hurricane repairs to dig a new channel for the small creek, an effort they described as a “stream restoration,” designed to remove decades of silt that had accumulated there. In the process, they removed hundreds of wetland trees and turned a meandering creek into what some officials described as a “wide trapezoidal ditch.”

During a streamside meeting Tuesday with state and federal agencies, city officials and park board members, experts from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said the “log flume” channel the city created was large enough to handle 60 square miles of rain runoff, even though the creek drains only 2 square miles.

They also said that the surrounding wetlands in Daphne’s Village Point Park, part of a nature preserve created a few years earlier by the city, may never fully recover from the damage. And though city officials said they believe the work would alleviate flooding in homeowners’ yards along the creek’s flood plain, Fish & Wildlife officials said they worry it may end up exacerbating the flooding problems for homeowners.

Joy Earp with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the Daphne project was being chalked up in the “lessons learned” category. The corps will supervise such stream restoration efforts more closely, according to officials, and have “better regional coordination” involving other agencies — such as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — in future permitting.

Neither of those agencies nor the public are presently consulted when the corps issues “nationwide” permits, such as the one given to Daphne, since those permits are typically designed for small-scale or emergency projects that corps official believe are unlikely to have profound environmental impacts.

Federal officials said they plan to insert new oversight requirements into the federal permit process for nationwide permits granted in this part of the country as a result of the Daphne situation. Similar conditions have been added to nationwide permits to protect other regions of the country including the deserts of Utah and the streams in southern California.