LBMB responses to the Oppose Wetland Bank Proposal letter to the editor in the Chinook Observer by Suzy Whittey:
As an owner of LBMB, Inc., I would like the following text below published regarding our mitigation bank as a response to the Oppose Wetland Bank Proposal letter, which was published on Dec. 4 in the Chinook Observer.
Note: Portions of the original letters comments are listed below followed by the response by LBMB.
Comment in letter: There is no way that man can recreate land that nature has taken a millennium to make.
LBMB response: We agree totally, and that is why LBMB is not recreating wetlands, but preserving a large consolidated area of Category I and II wetlands and preserving high quality forested uplands. Preserving these wetlands is superior to having every homebuilder in the dune trying to create pockets of new, small, and fragmented wetlands that often ultimately fail.
Comment in letter: It is a sad state of affairs that we have reached a place in Pacific County with such rich land diversity that we are considering allowing a mitigation process.
LBMB response: Wetland impacts and wetland mitigation are already occurring on the Long Beach Peninsula. This is not a new process. Even without a mitigation bank, the federal, state and local regulations require a mitigation process, including avoidance, minimization and finally, for unavoidable impacts- mitigation. This is called mitigation sequencing. A wetland mitigation bank is just one tool in the toolbox of mitigation options. It is not required that all wetland impacts be mitigated at a bank, in fact in some cases it will be more appropriate to mitigate on-site or with other means. The Long Beach Mitigation Bank has been developed to primarily mitigate for impacts to low quality/category wetlands, and only in certain circumstances for high quality or high functioning wetlands. Establishment of the mitigation bank does not change the requirement for mitigation sequencing nor will cause an increase in impacts.
Comment in letter: But, if developer A wants to fill 5 areas of wetland that is in the shoreline dunes should he not have to mitigate a new wetland in the dunes? How can he be allowed to go from filling dunes to creating a wetland in the middle of a forest?
LBMB response: Impacts to interdunal wetlands will go through mitigation sequencing process at a federal, state and local regulatory level. The review agencies will determine which impacts can be mitigated a bank, and which cannot. Doing applicant sponsored and on-site mitigation may be appropriate in some cases, however, it is the small and difficult to protect individual mitigation sites that often are the most likely to fail and be impacted into the future with neighboring development.
A wetland mitigation bank site allows a consolidation of mitigation at a large area that is more beneficial to wetland habitat, hydrology and water quality.
We are not creating a wetland in the middle of a forest. We are preserving and enhancing existing Category I and II wetlands and preserving high quality forested uplands and wetlands that, as a whole, benefit the adjacent high quality wetlands. This site is within an historic interdunal wetlands complex.
Comment in letter: What they are trying to do is allow a company in Longview, who owns a non-developable wetland on the Long Beach Peninsula to get rich selling that developer credits for a wetland that already exists.
LBMB response: The 82-acre mitigation site is not undevelopable. Without protection, the high quality uplands on the site could be developed into several single family development lots, all with driveways, homesites, and landscaped areas. The site could also be converted to farmland or pasture. In addition, the forested upland and wetland areas could be logged. Undoubtedly, even by avoiding the wetlands and only developing or logging in the uplands, the adjacent wetlands could be impacted by loss of adjacent habitat, runoff of silt, and excess discharges of stormwater from roads, roofs, and other impervious surfaces. The reasons for giving preservation value on this site are numerous. Both the federal and state rules on mitigation banking allow preservation of existing high quality wetland habitats as one option among many in banking. Furthermore, we are not just doing preservation. We have planted numerous additional trees to augment the diversity of the habitat. We have removed several TONS of garbage dumped on the property over the years. We have fenced and signed the property to restrict access and prevent additional dumping and vandalism. We are providing an internal buffer, ranging from 50 to 200 feet in width inside the mitigation property, which no credit or compensation is given and, which helps protect the integrity of the site.
Comment in letter: And if the state wants to do the protection route instead of replacement then the credits should not be 1 acre to 1 acre it should be more like 20 to 1.
LBMB response: With regard to wetland mitigation ratios, 10 to 1 to 20 to 1 preservation ratios may be appropriate for applicant-sponsored mitigation when there is no large consolidated site available. A lower preservation ratio is appropriate in this case because it is a large site, has a large diversity of habitat, is being enhanced and improved with plantings, garbage removal, fencing and signage, is adequately buffered, will be maintained and monitored intensively throughout the life of the bank and beyond, and will have legal protections in the form of a third-party conservation easement and an endowment to ensure its long term protection. We are required by both the federal and state agencies to have a Long Term Monitoring and Maintenance Plan and third party steward to ensure active oversight in perpetuity. The 82-acre bank has been approved to earn 10.92 credits which means that each credit that is sold equals 7 acres on the ground, or in other words, a 6:1 credit ratio, not the 1:1 ratio as you stated in your editorial comment.
Comment in letter: There is a bald eagles nest on this property, and by law there is a 660 foot protection zone around the nest. There is no disturbance allowed during the nesting season from January to August. How is this going to be addressed?
LBMB response: We have only planted some additional trees within proximity to the nest and have followed all best management practices to avoid disturbance of the nest site during the nesting season. There are no plans to disturb the nest site nor would we want to. It is in our best interest to make sure the bald eagles are not disturbed as they are one of the great attributes to the preservation of this site. Future activities on the property will only consist of routine invasive species maintenance (such as removal of blackberries, reed canarygrass, Japanese knotweed) to maintain the health of the native vegetation. Yearly monitoring of the site will also occur to ensure the site is not being impacted by further garbage dumping or trespass, and that the health of the native vegetation is being maintained. None of these activities should cause disturbance or impact to the nest site.
Comment in letter: There is no plan in place to preserve this land for the future. This issue must be addressed as well.
LBMB response: The mitigation site will be protected in perpetuity with a legally binding and enforceable conservation easement that is not only approved by both federal and state agencies, but also by a third party non-profit organization that will watch-dog all activities at the property in the future.
Comment in letter: What will happen to the assessed value of the land? Will the assessed value go up as this company starts making tons of money on this land? And will the taxes reflect this?
LBMB response: The land is currently assessed at its current highest and best use, which is rural residential, not as a mitigation bank site. After the site is protected with a conservation easement, the county assessor may determine a different tax assessment rate for the property.
Comment in letter: What this land needs is to be placed into a trust and left alone.
LBMB response: The mitigation bank site will not be altered now or in the future. Additional native tree plantings and removal of garbage are the only activities that have occurred on the property. The land will be protected with a conservation easement, similar to a trust, with a third party easement holder.
Comment in letter: There are no Old Growth trees on the 80 acre property called the Long Beach Mitigation Bank.
LBMB response: There are forested areas within the mitigation bank site which meet both the definition of old-growth and mature forest as defined by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). These areas are dominated by large Sitka spruce trees interspersed with occasional western hemlock, forming a multi-layered canopy with occasional small openings. Based on a survey of individual tree diameters in 2010, there has been confirmation that there are forested areas within the western portion of the mitigation bank site that are considered a state priority habitat. The presence of old-growth and mature forest areas has been fully documented and approved by the reviewing agencies. These areas will not be impacted and will continue to be preserved by a conservation easement, which will protect the site in perpetuity.
Comment in letter: This is one of our centuries get rich quick scheme.
LBMB response: A get rich quick scheme could not be farther from the truth. Ms. Whitteys assumptions on land price and credit price have no basis. We have made a significant investment to acquire the land, perform surveys, inventories and studies, go through a lengthy permitting and review process, plant trees, remove garbage, install perimeter fencing, signage, plus fund financial assurances and endowment for long term maintenance, monitoring, and protection of the site.
On the sales side of the equation, our mitigation credit price will be fully dictated by market demand. We fully realize that our price must be competitive or those needing mitigation will find other alternatives. Profit in this enterprise is not assured by any means. It may take years to know if the endeavor even breaks even. With the down economy, development on the Peninsula is likely to be slow for some time. It could take several years, and even decades, to sell all the mitigation credits. Most typical developers would not risk a five-year permitting process and an uncertain outcome. In essence, that is what the Long Beach Mitigation Bank owners have undertaken.
Francis Naglich, Owner LBMB, Inc.