Mitigation banks establish endowment funds to ensure that once a site has been properly restored with the right blends of native foliage, vegetation, and hydrology, the property can be well maintained and monitored.
Proven methods can restore a site to function as part of a healthy ecosystem.
By Danny Moran
Wetlands mitigation banking has established a track record of success in restoring and preserving crucial ecosystems in many states during the last several decades. Now the proven system is positioned to grow and expand even faster, combining the best of strong environmental regulation and oversight with sound science and private-sector innovation and adaptability.
A mitigation bank is a piece of land that has potential, and natural attributes, but may have been altered or damaged in the past, perhaps through ditching and drainage, logging, farming, ranching overuse, or abuse that changed the landscape. To restore the site to function as part of a healthy ecosystem as nature intended takes time and money, planning, and preparation. Mitigation banking is a proven way to achieve those goals, tackling the complex challenge by combining strengths of both the public and private sectors.
Mitigation bank sites that receive federal and regional approvals and certification are funded by investors, including developers, a technique that began in a small way in the 1980s and 1990s. If a development project, such as construction of a major highway, pipeline, or infrastructure, is unable to avoid the taking or altering of wetlands, it may “mitigate,” or offset that loss, by investing in restoration and conservation of an approved mitigation bank site. By doing so, development itself helps pay for restoring critical habitat and ecosystems, furthering a laudable federal goal of achieving “no net loss” of wetlands.
My company has overseen the rehabilitation of thousands of acres throughout the South and is taking on new projects regularly. For example, the company was recently selected to co-manage East Bay Farms LLC, the sponsor of the Gulf Coastal Plains Mitigation Bank in south Texas. The 1,957-acre site is a fully approved wetlands mitigation bank in the Galveston Region and has a variety of “credits” available for purchase by developers to offset their own projects once the work is permitted and unavoidable losses are calculated. Every step of the process is governed by strict regulations to meet the Clean Water Act and other environmental provisions overseen by agencies such as the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The turn-key approach we’ve developed to oversee projects from start to finish has successfully helped restore vulnerable sites throughout Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, particularly along the fragile Gulf Coast. Recently, we have been ramping up efforts to assist more public and private landowners and developers in navigating the mitigation system.
Maximum benefits flow to the environment, society, and the private sector when a mitigation job is done right. The biological, hydrological, and engineering expertise of our restoration teams is used to recreate historic conditions and to enhance biological and wildlife communities. To achieve a client’s environmental objective, we employ a unique balance of sophisticated science, regulatory knowledge, and capital investment.
Our integrated approach enables us to manage or oversee every aspect of a project, from initial market and site analysis to design, construction, and implementation, with long-term operational considerations baked into the process from the start. For example, mitigation banks establish endowment funds to ensure that once a site has been properly restored with the right blends of native foliage, vegetation, and hydrology, the property can be well maintained and monitored.
Gulf Coastal Plains Mitigation Bank in the Galveston Bay watershed is being restored to historic freshwater and intermediate salt marshes that existed before the property was converted to cropland decades ago. Surrounded by the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, the site is within the Mississippi migratory flyway, and once fully restored will add additional prime resting and foraging space for annual fall and spring bird migrations. The open land will be protected in perpetuity by a conservation easement.
While a successful restoration project can be a decisive win-win for the environment, landowners, and public and private entities, it takes a tremendous amount of attention to detail at every step to meet the strict regulatory and legal requirements that govern the process. The reputation of the mitigation banking sector is at stake with every new project and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and other agencies rely heavily on firms with a track record of success.
Danny Moran is managing director of EcoSystem Renewal (www.ecosystemrenewal.com) and was elected vice chairman of the National Environmental Banking Association (https://environmentalbanking.org) in 2017. He has more than 30 years of experience in the mitigation field, land management, and environmental restoration. His Baton Rouge, La.-based company is one of the pioneers of wetlands mitigation banking and one of its latest goals is to help educate the public about the largely unheralded benefits of mitigation banking.