I am starting a campaign. No, not that kind of campaign! We have plenty of political folks already in campaigns. Besides, that ship sailed a long time ago. Nope, I am talking about a campaign to reform wetland mitigation rules. Let me give you an example.
Everyone loved a certain proposal in a New Hampshire town for a development of a long-term health care facility. It was a good location, it did not generate much traffic, and it was needed in the area. It would be good for the community. The downside was there were wetlands of low quality that would be impacted - enough so that compensatory mitigation was required. According to the State and Federal agencies, there was no good mitigation site already in the town. So, the applicants were directed to pay into the Aquatic Resources Mitigation (ARM) fund.
“Hold on!” says the town Conservation Commission and Planning Board. “We are losing wetlands AND the ARM money is going out of town!”
State and Feds respond, “Well, you can always apply to the ARM fund for the money for a project in town.” “We have applied and it is never been successful,” says the town.
Applicants are in the middle. What do they do? In order to get the dang thing approved, they opt to both pay into the ARM fund AND buy a parcel of land that the town has on their list for protection.
Unfair? Of course it is unfair – to both sides. The town feels it is unfair because they are losing wetlands and the compensation money is leaving the town, most likely never to return. It is unfair for the applicants because, if they want the project approved at both the State and local levels, they have to double pay. I guess the State and Feds don’t see it as unfair. But I do.
So here is the slogan for my campaign: “KEEP THE MONEY IN TOWN!”
I am running on a platform that says the ARM fund money will be set aside for use by the municipality for a period of one year. The town/city will have one year to find or create a mitigation project that will meet the criteria of the mitigation committee. If the town/city satisfies the criteria that the project is worthy of funding, the funds will be released to the town/city and utilized to complete the project.
However, if the town/city does not get their act together and don’t find a worthy project, the money is released to the general ARM fund and will be up for grabs by any who wish to apply for the funds.
Basically, I am suggesting that the funds be held for a year to allow the town/city to formulate a project. If the town/city does not formulate a project, the funds are no longer exclusively available to the town/city, and become available to any organization doing mitigation projects in the watershed.
What are the pros?
1. The municipalities get the opportunity to design meaningful wetland/stream restoration/conservation projects in locations they select.
2. The municipalities are given an incentive to design wetland/stream restoration or conservation projects. A $150,000.00 ARM fund payment can be a big incentive to look for conservation or restoration projects, knowing that the funding is there and waiting.
3. The municipalities get to have their cake (wetlands) and eat it (the money) too!
4. The municipalities are not competing against the big land trusts or societies or organizations that have staff devoted to obtaining grants from the ARM fund.
5. The wetland applicants are no longer torn between the State/Feds and local commissions/boards for compensatory mitigation funds.
Some of the cons I have heard from State and Feds:
1. Too much paperwork. Too hard to keep track of the funds and when they are due to be transferred into the general ARM fund. (Keeping track of $150,000 plus doesn’t seem like such a chore, but that’s what they say.)
2. The towns/cities will not come up with meaningful projects that will meet the mitigation committee criteria.
3. The program is working just fine the way it is. Why change it?
4. The money will sit too long in the ARM fund account before it is used.
Not all the Feds think this is a bad idea. In fact, I had one US Army Corps of Engineers person think it was a great idea. They did not think the paperwork would be all that bad --- just another Excel spreadsheet. They thought it would be a winner with the towns/cities and be easily supported by the political folks. The length of time the money sat in the ARM fund account did not bother them, since there is no set time frame on when it is to be used. The money just has to be spent on really good mitigation.
So here is my campaign promise: I will pursue this change to the mitigation rules. I will be seeking your support to make the changes either to the wetland rules or to the wetland laws. I am looking for supporters and volunteers to champion the cause.
Are you with me?
“In My View” is an opinion article that will be posted once a month. It is my view of wetland and other environmental issues that will or may affect your business or organization. It will sometimes give you updates on new rules or legislation that has recently passed. In other cases, I will discuss legislation that is “in the works” at our state capital. As the name would imply, it is my view of what this rule, legislation or change means to you. I am constantly meeting with clients, friends and local regulatory officials who are asking me what this rule means or what that piece of legislation does. For that reason, I am providing this to associates of GES who might care to have this information. I will not be political, but I do reserve the right to be opinionated. If you know of someone who might want to receive future articles, feel free to forward a link to them. If in the coming months there is a topic, law, rule or regulation that you would like me to discuss, let us know. If I feel that I am competent to say something about it, I will discuss it in the future.
That concludes this Month’s article. Each past article will be stored on our website at www.gesinc.biz or Google: Gove Environmental Services, Inc. I hope this will be of value to you.
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