King County streamlines rules for wetlands
February 21, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Builders in rural and unincorporated areas can purchase credits to offset construction-related damage to wetlands, after a King County Council decision Jan. 17.
County Executive Dow Constantine spearheaded a measure to enable builders to 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 legislation creates “mitigation credits” for builders to purchase to offset damage to wetlands. The county can then use the payments for “mitigation credits” to design, construct and maintain watershed restoration projects.
“This market-based tool is the first of its kind in the state, and will better protect our environment while providing options for the building industry,” Constantine said in a statement.
The measure attracted praise from developers and environmentalists after the executive sent the proposal to the County Council for consideration in late October.
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 create larger restoration projects with greater benefits to the health of Puget Sound watersheds,” he said. “Lands where projects occur will be permanently protected as open space, ensuring a legacy of a healthy environment for future generations.”
The program is among a handful in the nation to meet federal rules for how and where the process — called “in-lieu fee mitigation” — can occur.
Under the program, the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers co-chair a regulatory oversight committee to ensure the county meets obligations under the law.
In Issaquah and other King County cities, builders complete restoration projects to offset wetland 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.