SwampGate: Purchasing nutrients from a wetland bank prohibited by EEP's own rules

As an informational update on the brewing controversy concerning the state paying twice for work done once, “Stories from the Field” offers a snippet from the EEP‘s own rule book.  The rule specifically and unequivocally prohibits the dual use of a single mitigation site for wetland and nutrient mitigation, as was done at least once by a private contractor, and perhaps many times by the rule maker themselves:

Ecosystem Enhancement Program:
“Policies, Process, and Procedures Manual,” May 4, 2008

2.0 DEFINITIONS AND PROJECT REQUIREMENTS TO GENERATE RIPARIAN BUFFER MITIGATION CREDITS.

2.9 Wetland and Buffer Mitigation. Wetland mitigation may not overlap with riparian buffer mitigation. When wetland mitigation is implemented in a riparian zone using buffer restoration techniques that could also generate riparian buffer mitigation, a decision must be made as to which type of credit will be claimed from the project. A specific area on a project can generate either wetland mitigation credits or riparian buffer mitigation credits. Portions of a project can be designated as generating riparian buffer mitigation credits and portions generating wetland credit, but these areas cannot overlap.

2.10 Nutrient Offset and Buffer Mitigation. Nutrient offset mitigation is required to be stand alone mitigation in order to generate nutrient offset mitigation. Any area being used for nutrient offset mitigation cannot be used to generate stream, wetland, or buffer mitigation credits. Similarly any area being used to generate riparian buffer mitigation credits cannot be used to generate nutrient offset mitigation.

SwampGate: News and Observer busts EBX for hitting the punch bowl twice

Quite a find on my porch this morning. The state’s paper of record revealed a long-stewing controversy in the obscure but important world of compensatory environmental mitigation policy.  [EBX paid twice for wetlands work, December 8, 2009]  RS’ principal competitor, Environmental Bank and Exchange (EBX), sold nutrient mitigation credits to the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program subsequent to the site being banked, restored and previously paid for by the North Carolina Department of Transportation for wetland mitigation credit.  In industry parlance —  we call this a “double-dip.”

Read more

The Flying Turkey takes more air photos

When Pam and the kids and I visit our family in Beaufort, North Carolina, I often take the opportunity to hire a small plane at the friendly Michael J. Smith Airport to take photos of nearby RS sites. I did so yesterday and enjoyed nearly perfect conditions.  Here are some pictures of the Bear Creek, Jarman’s Oak and Lloyd wetland and stream mitigation sites. (As regular readers will recall, I flew Bear Creek earlier this month. But I returned this time WITH my stabilized lens).

I also flew the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s North River Restoration Site, about which I have provided some background below.

Note: If you “click through” the photo box you can more easily read captions and navigate the photos.

Enjoy!

Below are some photos of North River Farms, which is being restored by the North Carolina Coastal Federation. This project is near and dear to RS’ heart. RS owned the option to purchase this 6000 acre farm in the 90’s. Determining that the farm had significantly more restoration potential than could be used as mitigation in the watershed (unless Cape Canaveral were relocated to the NC coast), we contacted the NCCF and suggested they take our option and make an application for its restoration to the then newly formed NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

The rest is history. The project is now one of the largest coastal restoration projects in the nation. We retained 390 acres within the farm, for which RS was recently awarded a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to restore and protect. Brassgrill and I will blog in the future and tell you more about this project.

Guidance: Army Corps Savannah District Releases Draft Guidelines for Mitigation Banking

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The updated guidance for mitigation banking in the Savannah Army Corps District has at long last arrived. As regular readers will know, in summer 2008 the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated an extensive regulation to reform and improve compensatory mitigation and mitigation banking for the 404 Federal wetland regulatory program. Presumably, each Army Corps District will at some point issue a document similar to this one in order to conform local practice and previously issued guidance to the new federal regulatory standards.

I have only skimmed the guidance document but (as expected) it appears to be excellent work. The Savannah District and the Georgia IRT (Interagency Review Team) already administer a relatively well-functioning and responsive mitigation banking regulatory system. It is no surprise to see them lead the nation in updating their regs in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner. Don’t get me wrong: I am sure there are bugs in it. But this document is a draft — and “Stories from the Field” will let you know in future posts what we think does or doesn’t work.

Another tip of the hat goes to the newly formed Georgia Environmental Restoration Association (GERA). Modeled to some degree after North Carolina’s NCERA, the GERA was formed last year and has quickly mobilized to improve compensatory mitigation banking in GA. GERA is a “must-join” for working down there.

Proposed Savannah Corps regs here

RS assists in National Survey of Mitigation Bankers

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The indispensible Ecosystem Marketplace published a second story in a week involving RS.  (Here is the first). This one is a lot drier, but also filled with consequence for and insight into the emerging markets for compensatory mitigation and ecosystem services (a term for another blog).

When I get a chance, I will blog some about the background of the survey, it’s conclusions, and the propects for its continuation.  But, for now, I just wanted to share the link below, and recognize Ecosystem Marketplace for their coverage of these important issues as they develop.

The Katoomba Group's Ecosystem Marketplace

Mitigation Bankers Say New Rule Heightens Old Conflicts: Survey

by Todd BenDor, J. Adam Riggsbee, and George Howard

About the Survey

This article has been adapted from the Executive Summary of A National Survey of Federal Mitigation Regulations and their Impacts on Wetland and Stream Banking. You can download the full report, including the executive summary, above.

It’s been more than a year since the United States enacted uniform procedures for
offsetting lost wetlands across the country, but market participants say “The Rule” has neither calmed the conflicts it was designed to eradicate nor driven business to mitigation banks. The reason, they say, is that regulators are as regionally inconsistent as ever.

20 November 2009 | When the US Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers released their long-awaited regulations for offsetting lost wetlands in March of last year, everyone seemed to agree that “the Rule” – as the regulations are collectively and colloquially known – would encourage the expansion of mitigation banking to provide compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to the nation’s

wetlands.