Streamlined process for wetlands proposed
November 29, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
In the near future, builders in rural and unincorporated King County could purchase credits to offset construction-related damage to wetlands.
Under a plan proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine, builders could pay a fee, rather than completing projects in a process called mitigation to compensate for damaged or destroyed wetlands.
The law requires builders to avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands and other sensitive areas as much as possible. Mitigation is required if damage is unavoidable.
The proposal calls for creating “mitigation credits” for builders to purchase to meet obligations for damage to wetlands. The county could then use the payments for “mitigation credits” to design, construct and maintain watershed restoration projects.
Constantine sent the proposal to the County Council for consideration Oct. 27.
“With this proposal, we couple greater predictability for builders to greater certainty that we will successfully protect and restore streams and wetlands,” he said in a statement. “This approach affirms King County’s commitment to innovation and collaboration with regulatory agencies, the environmental community and the development community.”
Constantine said the program could lead to a framework for the private sector to drive environmental protection through voluntary measures.
“By pooling mitigation payments, King County can build larger restoration projects with greater benefits to the environmental health of Puget Sound’s watersheds,” he said. “And lands where projects occur will be permanently protected as open space, ensuring a legacy of a healthy environment for future generations.”
The proposal received early support from builders, including homebuilder Quadrant Homes and the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. The option to purchase “mitigation credits” rather than complete restoration projects could streamline a time-consuming part of the county permitting process.
“This proposal offers predictable costs and schedules for the development community to meet requirements that protect our natural environment,” Bonnie Geers, vice president of public affairs for Quadrant Homes, said in a statement.
People for Puget Sound, a nonprofit environmental group, also backed the proposal.
“While the first preference is for projects to do no harm and then to mitigate onsite, we are pleased that King County has proposed this innovative and forward-thinking plan which will address losses of storm water infiltration,” Executive Director Tom Bancroft said in a statement.
Under the existing system, builders in Issaquah and elsewhere in King County complete restoration projects to offset damage. Despite the possible benefits in the county proposal, administration and start-up costs for such a program on a city level could be prohibitive.
Issaquah is too small and lacks the frequent mitigation needs to justify a program similar to Constantine’s proposal, city officials said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.