The Mitigation Banking Process

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MITIGATION BANKS PROVIDE MANY BENEFITS compared to small permittee-responsible mitigation projects, the first of which is superior environmental restoration and protection.

The benefits to the development application process are also abundant. Applicants must still engage in the sequencing process—avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts—but if the impact is unavoidable, mitigation banks are now the Corps’ preferred mitigation option. If the applicant is within the identified service area of a permitted mitigation bank, the permit application can call out the mitigation bank as the mitigation source through the completion of a bank use plan.

The Corps and the Washington Department of Ecology have created guidance for this process, which can be accessed at habitatbank.com/usingthebanks. Typically, applicants pursuing their own off-site mitigation solution can expect to replace the impact in a ratio of two or three acres of mitigation to one acre of impact, and often as much as six or more acres to one acre of impact if the subject wetland is considered to be of especially high quality.

Ecology’s wetland rating system identifies lower-quality wetlands as Category IV, and the most sensitive and valuable—and rarely impacted—wetlands as Category I. Permitted impacts to a Category III wetland, for example, might require two or three acres of mitigation for every acre of impact. The mitigation requirement will include an appropriate buffer around the restoration/creation project, along with a ten-year monitoring plan and some financial guarantee that the site will be properly maintained. This is all in addition to the cost of site acquisition, design and consulting, and of course construction and planting of the wetland site. The same Category III wetland impact, if permitted to use a mitigation bank, would require one mitigation credit for every acre of impact. The mitigation bank may need as many as four acres to create that one credit, but the economy of scale and advantages of one permitting process for multiple credits make the concept workable.

The cost of the mitigation credits is typically much less than the alternative of constructing, maintaining, and monitoring off-site mitigation. And as observed by most potential customers, the freedom from the ongoing liability and worry about constructed mitigation is nearly worth the cost in itself.


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