Draft Rule Sets Criteria for Wetland Mitigation in Washington

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is proposing to adopt a new rule to establish criteria for wetland mitigation banks and a certification process for mitigation banks across the state, officials announced on March 11.

Ecology is now taking public comments about the proposal. The agency also will be conducting a series of public workshops and hearings in April to share information and get public feedback about the draft rule.

State and federal laws prohibit the loss of wetlands due to development. A wetland bank is a pre-existing wetland restoration project. Wetland mitigation banks are an important strategy for engaging the private sector and power of the marketplace to sustain Washington's remaining wetlands.

Wetland mitigation banks generate credits that represent the increase in wetland functions at the bank site. These credits -- subject to regulatory approval -- are then available for the bank sponsor to use or available for developers to purchase to offset wetland losses that cannot be avoided.

The availability of wetland credits doesn't eliminate state and federal regulations requiring developers to avoid and minimize wetland damage. Wetland mitigation banks allow developers to provide compensation before harming a wetland at another site.

"When properly guided and carried out, we know wetland mitigation banking can increase the ecological benefits by increasing and protecting wetland functions -- and save time for project applicants," said Lauren Driscoll, who oversees Ecology's wetland mitigation banking program.

Driscoll said the draft rule is designed to:

  • Provide timely review of wetland mitigation bank proposals;
  • Establish coordination among state, local, tribal and federal agencies involved in certifying wetland mitigation banks;
  • Ensure consistency with federal wetland mitigation rules;
  • Encourage wetland mitigation bank sponsors to locate and design wetland mitigation banks to provide the greatest ecological benefits.

"Ecology wants to ensure that wetland banks are compatible with working farms. The proposed rule includes considerations for locating and designing banks so that they do not adversely affect adjacent farmland," Driscoll said.

Ecology has already certified seven wetland mitigation banks across the state -- and another seven are in the certification process. There also are four other non-Ecology certified wetland mitigation banks operating in Washington.

The department will conduct seven public hearings for the proposed rule -- including a workshop an hour prior to each hearing explaining the draft rule where the public can ask questions. The public workshops and hearings are scheduled for April 8 in Spokane, April 9 in Lacey, April 15 in Mount Vernon, and April 16 in Seattle.

Ecology will take comments on the draft rule until 5 p.m. on April 23. Written comments and questions should be submitted to Yolanda Holder, Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 46700, Olympia, Wash. 98504-7600. Comments can also be submitted electronically at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/wetlands/mitigation/rule, sent via e-mail to yhol461@ecy.wa.gov, or faxed to 360.407.6902.