New Law to Boost Wetlands Restoration
Governor Hogan signs Nontidal Wetlands Mitigation Banking bill into law
Baltimore, MD (May 19, 2016) – A measure to improve Maryland’s wetlands conservation and restoration strategies was signed into law today.
Governor Larry Hogan signed the Nontidal Wetlands Mitigation Banking bill (House Bill 797) at a ceremony in Annapolis. The new law removes obstacles and clarifies policies to spur more public-private partnerships and wetlands protection projects. These projects play a critical role in sustaining the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways.
“This bill is living proof our state is open for business and committed to the environment,” said Governor Hogan. “When environmentalists, developers and engineers work together, we can improve our wetlands while simultaneously doing something very positive for the economy. This is good news for our state, the Chesapeake Bay and the local watersheds throughout Maryland.”
“The Maryland Department of the Environment thanks Governor Hogan and the General Assembly for this important environmental initiative,” said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. “Wetland conservation banks are a great way to help restore and protect our state’s natural heritage. We all win with public-private partnerships that improve environmental results.”
A mitigation bank is a wetlands restoration, enhancement or conservation area professionally managed and monitored to help the State meet its “no net loss” of wetlands goal. Unavoidable impacts to wetlands must be “mitigated” through projects that build new wetlands or restore degraded wetlands. Permit holders can meet this requirement by doing their own smaller projects, by buying credits for larger projects done by an approved mitigation bank or by paying a fee that is deposited in a compensation fund and then used to implement projects.
In 1993, the Nontidal Wetlands Protection Act was amended to encourage the development of a wetlands mitigation banking industry in Maryland. More than 20 years later, only seven mitigation banks have been approved and built in Maryland. The new law is designed to remove disincentives to the proper use of mitigation banks. A National Academy of Sciences study showed that mitigation done by permit holders could lead to a patchwork of small, ecologically isolated projects that are often less successful than larger, smarter efforts professionally managed as conservation and restoration areas.
- Use planning and scientific expertise to improve site selection, design, construction and monitoring of a mitigation project, providing a greater likelihood of ecological success over other mitigation options
- Ensure larger, potentially more ecologically valuable sites that encourage greater diversity of habitat and wetland functions, including carbon sequestration for greenhouse gas reductions
- Provide long-term stewardship of the mitigation site
- Accept liability for ensuring success of the mitigation project, reducing the uncertainty over whether the mitigation will successfully offset the impacts authorized by the permit
- Streamline the application process and reduce processing times by providing cost-effective mitigation opportunities.
The new law is consistent with federal environmental rules that place mitigation banking as the first preference for mitigation. It eliminates an outdated compensation ratio required for using mitigation bank credits and also defines the area in which a mitigation bank can be used with important safeguards to ensure fair and effective results.
The new law takes effect July 1. The Maryland Department of the Environment will also be taking additional steps, over the summer with stakeholders, to consider improvements to existing regulations and procedures on mitigation banks and in lieu fees.
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