Tuesday, September 29, 2015

OVERDRAWN in Fort Worth....Our Mitigation Banks

I have attached a link to a story about mitigation banks on the east side of Fort Worth which was recently reported about in the newspaper….not the Star Telegram, but the Houston Chronicle.  I wish the Star Telegram would do more investigative reporting. 
What is mitigation banking?
Mitigation banking is an agreement between a property owner and federal regulatory agencies to preserve, enhance, restore, or create a wetland area for the purpose of compensating for the inevitable destruction caused by construction in another area. Mitigation bank owners sell credits to government agencies and private developers who need permits to destroy other areas of wetland.    
I hadn’t heard of mitigation banking until gas drilling became widespread in our neighborhood and I became more aware of the properties around me. I was happy to learn there were two very large mitigation banks near my home. I was comforted by the thought that at least the land would be preserved and safe from the careless gas drilling practices I had personally witnessed in our area.
But the "preserved" land was drilled anyway!  
I learned the US Army Corps of Engineers is the primary regulatory agency for mitigation banks and responsible for their oversight.  The Corps approves the activities of the mitigation bank, determines how many credits a mitigation bank contains, and decides when there are no more credits available.  
I also learned that in 2008 the EPA and Corps implemented new guidelines and cited mineral exploration as an “incompatible use” of mitigation banks.  So why was the mitigation bank owner in our neighborhood allowed to drill?   
Unfortunately, the 2008 guidelines included a little clause which gave each Corps District Office the authority to approve acceptable uses on a case-by-case basis. It also included a grandfather clause for existing mitigation bank owners.
Why would the Corps allow the un-preservation of preserved land? Isn’t that why mitigation bank owners are paid millions of dollars, to keep their land as is and not develop it for profit? Maybe a refund is in order by mitigation bank owners who destroy the land they agreed and were paid handsomely to preserve.  
So what can we do to preserve our wetlands? My suggestion is to shine the light on this practice by contacting the Mitigation Section of the Corps Fort Worth District Office (817-886-1306). Let them know you read the Houston Chronicle article and have concerns about how the Corps allows certain mitigation bank owners to change the designated use of preserved wetlands. Ask this regulatory agency to please step up their monitoring of local mitigation banks.  

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