The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have signed an agreement to expand wetland mitigation options for permit applicants in Wisconsin.
The agreement expands mitigation options statewide by providing applicants the ability to mitigate wetland losses via an in-lieu fee program. The DNR-administered program still requires proposed projects to first avoid, then minimize adverse impacts to wetlands and meet all other permit conditions before qualifying to participate in the new program.
Matt Matrise, DNR coordinator for the in-lieu fee program, said the program has established credit values (fees) of $58,000 per credit in the Lake Superior basin, $60,000 per credit in the Mississippi basin and $61,000 per credit in the Lake Michigan basin. The values are based on a variety of factors including land values.
A limited number of credits are available for the following areas: Lake Superior, St. Croix, Chippewa, Upper Mississippi-Black Root, Upper Wisconsin, Lower Wisconsin, Upper Mississippi-Maq. Plum, NW Lake Michigan, Fox, Rock, SW Lake Michigan, and Upper Illinois.
The program allows projects to purchase all or part of a credit only after they have shown that they first attempted to avoid and then minimize their impacts, Matrise explained.
“It is not a blanket fee, it depends on the size of the wetland impact,” Matrise said. “It is roughly a 2-1 ratio (of credit-to-acre) with some variation depending on the site.”
The funds are to be used for the purchase of land for restoration and rehabilitation of wetlands in areas identified through watershed analysis as important to the overall health and function of the watershed, Matrise added.
“The program looks to restore lost wetlands,” Matrise said.
As administrator for the program, the DNR will collect the credit fees, seek public involvement on future restoration projects and ensure projects are initiated within three years after selling the first credit.
The initial phase of the program is allowing the purchase of advance credits. Those funds will be used to fund the program, which is designed to be self-funding, according to Matrise.
"Establishment of the Wisconsin Wetland Conservation Trust provides an important new tool for businesses and communities to create jobs while establishing a new path forward for protecting and restoring state wetlands," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "This initiative represents an innovative and cooperative approach to environmental protection by the DNR, the Corps of Engineers and the EPA."
Tamara Cameron, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District regulatory chief, said the in-lieu fee program provides another option for applicants to mitigate unavoidable wetland impacts authorized by Department of the Army permits.
"Among the benefits of our program is the ability to focus mitigation and improvement projects on the greatest watershed needs," Stepp said. "Mitigation decisions will be more efficient and predictable while offering new avenues for public participation. Our ultimate goal remains the same - no net loss of wetland acreage and function."
For more information on the program, visit dnr.wi.gov and search for ‘wetland compensatory mitigation.’