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King County takes over mitigation role for wetland projects

King County Executive Dow Constantine recently announced a proposed mitigation credit program when it comes to developers and their impact on local wetlands.

According to the executive’s office, the program — the first of its kind in the state — would allow developers to pay a fee to the county instead of completing individual mitigation projects when their projects affect wetland areas.

“With this proposal, we couple greater predictability for builders to greater certainty that we will successfully protect and restore streams and wetlands,” Constantine said. “This approach affirms King County’s commitment to innovation and collaboration with regulatory agencies, the environmental community and the development community.”

According to state law, builders are required to avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands and other similar areas as much as they possibly can. When such impacts are unavoidable, builders are required to mitigate them. The costs of that mitigation typically comes out of the builder’s or developer’s own pocket, something this proposal hopes to address, according to the executive’s office.

Under this plan, builders would voluntarily buy “mitigation credits” to meet those obligations to preserving wetlands. The county would pool those payments and, in turn, design, construct and maintain wetlands mitigation projects itself.

“By pooling mitigation payments, King County can build larger restoration projects with greater benefits to the environmental health of Puget Sound’s watersheds,” Constantine said. “And lands where projects occur will be permanently protected as open space, ensuring a legacy of a healthy environment for future generations.”

The developers in the county feel this proposal will relieve some of the onerous and time-consuming aspects of wetlands mitigation, said Sam Anderson, executive director of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish counties.

“The county is proposing to provide people with additional mitigation options; it is not a new regulatory authority,” Anderson said. “This new mitigation tool would shift some of the burden of navigating the regulatory process off the private sector and onto King County government. This should streamline the permitting process for builders and facilitate homebuilding in King County in ways that respect natural environment.”

According to the Executive’s office, the proposal falls in line with 2008 federal regulations regarding “in-lieu fee mitigation.” The state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would co-chair the regulatory oversight committee to make sure everything’s above board.

Ted Sturdevant, director of the DOE, feels this program allows for a pre-emptive strike on wetlands mitigation.

“In-lieu fees make the solution ready ahead of the need,” he said. “When a particular project cannot avoid damage to wetlands, a mitigation project will be available, and in many cases, already under way, pre-designed to maximize the environmental benefits for that watershed. That’s a win for all concerned, and we’re pleased to approve this program.”

 

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