Regulatory Division introduces new mitigation bank tools

Published June 6, 2014
Debbie Wegmann, chief of Regulatory Division’s Special Projects and Enforcement Branch, discusses mitigation banking at a two-day workshop in Jacksonville, hosted by the Florida Association of Mitigation Banking.

Debbie Wegmann, chief of Regulatory Division’s Special Projects and Enforcement Branch, discusses mitigation banking at a two-day workshop in Jacksonville, hosted by the Florida Association of Mitigation Banking.

At a workshop hosted by the Florida Association of Mitigation Banking (FAMB) workshop, held April 24-25 in Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville District’s Regulatory Division provided information and introduced new Prospectus and Mitigation Banking Instrument (MBI) templates to nearly 50 banking representatives in attendance.

The FAMB represents entities that own and operate mitigation banks and businesses that provide goods and services to the industry.

Debbie Wegmann, chief of the Special Projects and Enforcement Branch, said the workshop was an opportunity for the Corps to discuss the role of banks in offsetting impacts associated with Department of Army permits and the banking process in general.

Jon Griffin, mitigation banking team technical lead, joined Wegmann in guiding the audience through both templates, highlighting areas of importance while providing helpful hints.

Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Corps evaluates activities where dredged or fill material is discharged into waters of the United States, including wetlands. Permit applicants must demonstrate that every effort has been made to avoid or minimize impacts to aquatic resources to the greatest extent practicable. If impacts are unavoidable, the Corps may require compensatory mitigation as a condition of the Department of the Army permit.

Mitigation banking is the Corps’ preferred method of compensatory mitigation. A mitigation bank is created when a government agency, corporation, nonprofit organization or other entity establishes, enhances, restores or preserves a wetland, stream or other aquatic resource.

The mitigation bank approval process requires submittal of a prospectus, which provides information related to the proposed bank. The Corps reviews the prospectus to determine if the proposed bank has potential. The MBI is the resulting agreement between the Corps, the bank sponsor and the landowner for the establishment, operation and use of the mitigation bank.

Wegmann said successful mitigation doesn’t just happen. There is a methodology to how mitigation projects are selected, developed and maintained.

“The development of a mitigation banking process is oftentimes complex and time-consuming,” Wegmann said. “How you select your bank is critical.”

To make the complex process consistent for applicants and reviewers, Regulatory Division developed the Prospectus and MBI templates to assist the bankers in preparing their documents.

“Documents submitted in a recognizable and consistent format should aid project managers in their review and shorten review times,” she said.

“We tried to make [the template] simple to fill out,” Griffin added.

After a 2011 Corps-sponsored mitigation bank workshop, FAMB president Sheri Lewin said she and Wegmann had discussed for several years the possibility of a FAMB-sponsored forum for those who work in mitigation banking to receive guidance, feedback and direction from the Corps.

Wegmann told attendees that the Corps and the bankers each have a stake in mitigation banking. “The Corps receives successful, sustainable mitigation and the bankers see a financial reward,” she said.

The environmental benefits of the mitigation bank are used to compensate for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources. After a bank is Corps-certified, the bank sponsor is authorized to sell credits to permittees and then assumes full responsibility for the compensatory mitigation obligation.

Wegmann said the workshop’s purpose was to share information and lessons learned, and improve consistency, predictability, efficiency and timeframes.

“We want honest feedback to identify impediments that we can work on together to shorten timeframes to be more efficient,” Wegmann said.

Both Wegmann and Lewin agree the workshop was important to those within the mitigation banking community.

“It was fantastic. We are so thankful the Corps has been generous with its time, especially with this being as worthwhile as our attendees thought it was,” Lewin said.