Wetlands

A bill in the Idaho Legislature would allow developers to choose the type of mitigation they use to offset the impact of a project.

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The Idaho Senate Resources and Environment Committee on March 13 endorsed a bill that would ensure that developers have access to any wetland mitigation options available under federal law.

House Bill 207 clarifies that all types of approaches allowed under the 2008 Federal Mitigation Rule are available in Idaho:

• Mitigation banks that do qualifying wetlands work in a basin and sell credits to developers who impact wetlands elsewhere.

• Fee mitigation in which an agency or nonprofit collects a fee from the developer.

• Mitigation on-site by the developer who impacts the wetland.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-administered rule requires developers to mitigate any loss of wetlands.

The federal rule exists under Clean Water Act Section 404, which exempts most farming and ranching operations from permitting requirements.

Utilities, mining companies and road builders are among those that would be affected by HB 207, which Food Producers of Idaho supports.

Norm Semanko, a Boise attorney representing  the Valencia Wetlands Trust mitigation bank in Priest River, Idaho, said HB 207 would keep state agencies from delaying projects by advocating one form of mitigation over another.

Idaho’s eight wetland mitigation banks have been concerned that “at times, their wetland mitigation credits have been ignored in favor of other options favored by state agencies at the time,” he said. The legislation addresses the issue “without adding process to the process.”

Under HB 207, which the Idaho House approved unanimously on March 6, state agencies would not be allowed to mandate the type of mitigation or withhold approval because of the federally allowed option selected.

Valencia Wetlands Trust founder Donna Collier told the Senate panel the state’s existing system lacks transparency and that nationally, private-sector solutions have been successful in part because if they fail, credits are suspended.

Moreover, those who purchase the credits are essentially paying for improving the sites and protecting them long-term, she said.

Semanko said wetland mitigation banks provide more than 60% of the mitigation for impacts to wetlands nationwide compared to 21% in the Corps’ Walla Walla District, which includes Idaho.

This article originally ran on capitalpress.com.

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