“Mitigation is something a developer has to do in order to replace the environmental values of a wetland being impacted,” said John Henslick, an environmental consultant with Henslick and Associates who also serves on the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “Mitigation can be achieved in a multiplicity of ways – you can create a new wetland from uplands, enhance an existing wetland, restore a wetland that has lost all of its function or preserve uplands and wetlands in combination.”
Mitigation banking is gaining traction around Florida. This mitigation method involves preserving, restoring, enhancing or creating a conservation area to offset environmental impacts from development.
“Mitigation banks typically incorporate large wetland systems in conjunction with upland systems so the mitigation activity is located in an area of high wildlife utilization potential,” Henslick said.
Alec Hoffner, a senior scientist with E Co Consultants, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feels so strongly about mitigation banking that if a project calling for mitigation is being done in the service area of a mitigation bank, the developer is required to first try to use that mitigation bank before any other mitigation methods.
Hoffner explains the difference between on-site mitigation and using a mitigation bank like this: Say a developer must impact a wetland during construction. To offset those effects, the developer could create another wetland on the building site. Or the developer could use a mitigation bank and contribute to a larger, contiguous area of high-quality habitat of greater benefit to the region than the kind of “postage stamp mitigation” that’s often done on-site.
Another reason why off-site mitigation through mitigation banks is often the way to go? It has to be done up front. Off-site mitigation must be successful before an environmental impact is made on a development site, so there’s no time period during which an environment can be affected without anything being done to offset that impact.
There’s also the issue of protection. Mitigation banks provide protection to the environmental site through security, monitoring and maintenance, which is not as feasible at the same level for on-site mitigation efforts. Without protection, many on-site mitigation efforts don’t end up succeeding in the long term.
To determine the extent of the environmental impact from a development, a Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method is performed for the site – an assessment of the functional impact of the construction. That assessment determines the amount of functional loss in units and includes primary and secondary impacts.
The Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method is often performed by an environmental consultant, evaluated by the mitigation bank and then reviewed for accuracy by the water management district charged with protecting the water resources in the area, as well as the Army Corp of Engineers. After the assessment is verified, developers or landowners then purchase credits from a mitigation bank to offset the development’s impact.
And not just anyone can start a mitigation bank. Every mitigation bank has to go through a strict creation process, including permitting at the state and federal level, a negotiation related to the number of credits that will be available through the bank and a determination of how exactly the mitigation bank will preserve, restore, enhance or create habitats. Only once these specific success criteria are met can a mitigation bank begin to sell credits.
But before developers can reach the point of purchasing credits through a mitigation bank, permits must be obtained.
“City governments, county governments, state governments and federal government have environmental regulations,” Henslick said. “Agencies at each level review developmental permits to make sure they adhere to regulations and that they result in the least amount of impact to the environment as possible.”
Once those permits are in place, the conversation turns to what mitigation method would be most successful.
“Mitigation banking provides a regionally significant system,” explains Hoffner. “It’s a very good option for offsetting unavoidable impacts to wetlands.”