Swamp Love: RS' Jesuit Bend stars in reality show

On Friday night Episode 307 of “Sweet Home Alabama” aired. We allowed the reality show to use our beautiful swamp at Jesuit Bend as a filming location last month.

Never thought I’d see anyone “make out” on TV at one of our mitigation banks!

I can’t seem to get the video to “embed,” but see here for the episode.

Tennessee Stream Mitigation Program: Under Fire From Left and Right


Critics say ‘wholesale auction’ of Tennessee’s stream quality afoot

By Tom Humphrey

Sunday, February 19, 2012

NASHVILLE — A decade-old, multi-million dollar program for restoring degraded Tennessee streams has come under attack in the state Legislature even as Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration moves to give it new legal status.

Critics of the Tennessee Stream Mitigation Program, which is overseen by a non-profit foundation, characterized it as a “wholesale auction” of the state’s waterways to developers who can pay a fee for their pollution while leaving devastated downstream landowners in a lurch.

Testimony in a hearing before the House Conservation committee also raised questions about whether the non-profit Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation faces appropriate financial accountability under the present setup, which was put in place by a 2002 “memorandum of understanding” between state and federal agencies.

“You show me a non-profit, and I’ll show you bloated salaries and padded expense accounts,” said Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.

The essence of the 2002 memorandum would be put into state law for the first time under HB2349, introduced by the Haslam administration while a legal battle is underway over a West Tennessee development in which $947,000 was paid as a mitigation fee by a developer and a downstream private airport was devastated by flooding, according to the airport operators.

“What we have here is the Tea Party and the Sierra Club on the same side against a governor’s bill,” observed state Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, at one point during lengthy arguments.

Joey Woodard, director of the program, said in an interview that the committee was given “misinformation” about an effort that has restored thousands of miles of damaged streams in 23 completed projects with three more currently underway.

“I’m not sure whether it was just a gross misunderstanding or intentional misrepresentation,” Woodard said of the testimony before the committee. “They want you to believe it’s a slush fund. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

State law now authorizes mitigation in general, though Department of Environment and Conservation attorney Alan Leiserson told the committee the actual program “has been run without specific authorization” in state law.

The idea is that, when damage to a stream or wetland is unavoidable by a development deemed to warrant a state-issued permit, the developer can pay an “in lieu fee” to cover the environmental damage. The fee can run from $50 to $200 per foot of damaged stream.

Elizabeth Murphy, a Nashville attorney representing Wolf River Airport in the pending litigation that challenges legality of the mitigation program, told the committee the present system is effectively selling the state’s water quality “outside any regulatory function” of the state.

Read more

Hollywood in the Swamp

RS owns 330 acres we are permitting as Phase One of a mitigation bank in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, along the west bank of the Mississipi River below New Orleans.

The site is called Jesuit Bend because it lies on the last big easterly turn of the river below the city, but still 72 miles from the gulf.

The land is a dying beauty. A mix of open water and remnant swamp that is slowly but surely transitioning to ALL open water.

At this point, Jesuit Bend can only be reached by airboat, but it is worth the trip. The remnant swamp portion of the site, about 50 acres, is picture perfect.  The site is so attractive that we have allowed production companies access to film the landscape.

To date, two productions have been filmed; a promotion for an upcoming Coldwell Banker annual conference, and a segment of the reality show, “Sweet Home Alabama,” on Country Music Television.

Here is the Coldwell Banker promo:

Sweet Home Alabama is filmed and in the can, but we don’t have a trailer to show just yet. The premise of the show, for better or worse, is good looking country people and fabulous city people mixing it up and romancing at beautiful southern locations. The show will air February 27th on Country Music Television.

Tune in!

This Just In: Milburnie Dam agency and NGO Comments

Victory on Jones Street: New state law means big changes for mitigation in North Carolina

As poorly headlined in last Sunday’s Raleigh News and Observer [Legislature OK’s Rule on Streams 6/19/2011], our little state trade association, the North Carolina Environmental Restoration Association, had a huge legislative win in the just adjourned 2011 session of the North Carolina General Assembly.  It is not our way at RS to get out ahead of ourselves, so Stories from the Field wanted to wait until the Governor signed the bill before announcing this bit of good news for the ecological balance of the Tar Heel state and commercial mitigation.

She signed it last night.

SESSION LAW 2011-343 puts the state fee-program and private mitigation banks in much closer compliance with the 2008 Federal Mitigation Rule by establishing a statutory preference for mitigation bank credits in North Carolina in almost all cases, as well as establishing “Full-Delivery” turn-key mitigation as the preferred method for contracting for the state’s continuing fee-program obligations where banks are not yet available.

The law continues the wise policy taking hold nationwide of transferring responsibility for restoring and caring for compensatory ecosystems from governments to privately capitalized and bonded green firms like RS and our competitors.  It almost ensures that mitigation in North Carolina will continue its progress from a state monoply functioning with state mandated “static” prices, to a vibrant ecosystem services market with true-cost competitive pricing.

All progress in commercial mitigation is incremental.  A win in the legislative halls for the NCRA is a long way from the bottom line of any individual company. But this legislation may finally have turned the ship of state in North Carolina toward performing mitigation that is not established according to available funds — but priced according to true costs.

The former method, state production and pricing, has failed miserably as detailed in the recent News and Observer series, “Washed Away.”  The latter method endorsed by the new law – establishing mitigation and then market pricing it for sale — makes sure that someone (I hope RS) is taking personal economic and ecological responsibility for a given impact to the waters of the U.S. within our state.

The bill description below may read like a wonky little change to policy but it makes a huge difference on the ground. It allows the green shoots of true-cost restoration and advance mitigation to grow in Tar Heelia without fear of being plucked by the cold dead hand of The Leviathan.

I can’t let this post end without giving a shout-out to the NCERA lobbyist from McGuireWoods Raleigh office, Harry Kaplan.  It takes a special kind of patience to navigate legislation in a heretofore unknown field with desperate entrepreneurs nipping at your heels in the halls.

Here is Harry’s summary of the law:

Analysis of Senate Bill 425:

During their 2008 Regular Session, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation to provide that, under certain circumstances, certain applicants for compensatory wetlands mitigation must seek that mitigation from a private wetlands mitigation bank before seeking that mitigation from the Ecosystem Enhancement Program (“EEP”) in the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. During their 2009 Regular Session, the General Assembly enacted legislation to extend this preference for private mitigation to the areas of riparian buffer protection and nutrient offsets. Under the law prior to the enactment of Senate Bill 425, the preference for private mitigation and nutrient offset did not apply to the State, the federal government, or to local governments.

Section 1.1 of Senate Bill 425 amends the definition of “governmental entity” in GS 143-214.11 (Ecosystem Enhancement Program: compensatory mitigation) so that the preference for private mitigation and nutrient offsets now applies to local governments unless the unit of local government was a party to a mitigation banking instrument executed on or before July 1, 2011, notwithstanding subsequent amendments to such instrument executed after July 1, 2011. Section 1.1 defines a “private compensatory mitigation bank” as a site created by a private compensatory mitigation provider and approved for mitigation credit by State and federal regulatory authorities through execution of a mitigation banking instrument. No site owned by a government entity or unit of local government shall be considered a “private compensatory mitigation bank.” Section 1.1 also requires an existing local compensatory mitigation bank to comply with the requirements of Article 12 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes governing the sale and disposition of property whenever it transfers any mitigation credits to another person.

Section 1.2 of Senate Bill 425 establishes a new process by which the EEP provides for compensatory mitigation. This new process creates a priority system for different types of programs for the procurement of compensatory mitigation – with “Full Delivery/Bank Credit Purchase Program” listed as the first priority. Under Senate Bill 425, EEP must first seek to meet compensatory mitigation procurement requirements through its Full Delivery program or by the purchase of credits from a private compensatory mitigation bank, as defined above.

Senate Bill 425 became effective when it became law on June 17, 2011 and applies to all projects and contracts awarded on or after that date.

THIS JUST IN: All Corps Mitigation Permit Decisions Must be Documented

All:

Today we received very good news! As of October 26th all permit decisions which the Corps makes must document decision making process for mitigation. This is significant because the mitigation rule (33 CFR 332.3) defines a mitigation hierarchy which has mitigation banking as the preferred method of mitigation. The Association has been fighting since the mitigation rule came into existence in 2008 for the Corps to follow the preference found in the rule. This directive requires that the permit officer document his/her decision making process which should have the effect of causing additional compliance with the hierarchy. I want to thank each and every one of you who have participated in this fight at both the District level and at HQ level for the hard work it has taken to achieve this milestone. We will be discussing this directive on the regular monthly NMBA call (Thursday, November 18th, 10 to 11 am Eastern,1-866-305-2467 access number 836122)

We hope you will participate in the call.

Thank you,

Victoria K. Colangelo

Click & link to:
The new Department of the Army Memorandum Documenting Nationwide Permit Template
&
Chief, Operation & regulatory Division letter discussing Minimum Level of Documentation required for Permit Decisions

Ecosystem Marketplace: Mitigation Bankers Say Army Corps Not Following the Rule

From Hannah Kett and Ecosystem Marketplace

According to law, if you damage a wetland in the US, you must restore a comparable piece of property in the same watershed. A 2008 regulatory rule says wetland credits from a mitigation bank should be your first option. Mitigation banks, however, say this isn’t happening, and they want the Army Corps of Engineers to tell them why. The Corps says it’s just trying to be flexible – and promises more transparency in the future.

29 September 2010 | In April, 2008, wetland scientist Rich Mogensen read “The Rule” and speculated that the number of wetland mitigation banks in the United States could triple from 500 then to 1500 right about now as a result of its issuance (read more here).

Officially titled the Compensatory Mitigation Rule for Losses of Aquatic Resources, the Rule was jointly issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (with a push from Congress), and it declared that anyone who damages a US wetland should look first to mitigation bankers to compensate for the damage before exploring other alternatives.

National Mitigation Banking Association letter to Army Corps of Engineers regarding the implementation Fede… </objec Read more

Nationwide 8-Digit Hydrologic Units Codes (HUC's)

I was reviewing our Google Earth file of 8-Digit HUC’s and and it occurred to me an image of all the HUC’s nationwide might make for a fun and informative post on the RS blog.

When learning about the business and policy of mitigation banking people will often ask, “Can a wetland or stream restored in North Carolina [for instance] compensate for a permit issued in California?”  Emphatically no —  I’ll answer.

The general rule of thumb is that each individual bank is assigned a Service Area, which includes a small assemblage of 8-Digt HUC”s — the polygons you see below — or fewer if the demand is stronger.

In all southeastern U.S. Army Corps Districts — with the exception of Wilmington, North Carolina — you are allowed, according to standard operating procedure, adjacent HUC’s in your Service Area for mitigation if no other bank is present.  So, take two or three of the polygon areas in this image and you are looking at a typical Mitigation Bank Service Area in the Southeast.

Interesting figure, huh?

Nationwide 8-Digit USGS Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC’s)