Charlotte Observer Mar. 28, 2006

Developers urged to seek wetlands experts

JOHN HEILPRIN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is encouraging developers who
destroy wetlands or streams and are required to replace them to pay
other businesses to do the work.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency
issued proposed regulations Monday that are intended to promote
companies that specialize in creating swamps, marshes and streams.

Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water, said
he hopes the number of businesses engaged in "mitigation banking" will
double. About 300 such businesses now exist.

Developers could buy credits from such companies to compensate for the
bogs, swamps, marshes and other types of wetlands and streams they fill
in.

This is the first time the government has issued a rule spelling out
what professional standards for wetlands compensation should be
required under the Clean Water Act.

George Dunlop, the Army's deputy assistant secretary, said greater use
of mitigation banking would make restoration work more predictable and
consistent.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm,
found last year the Army Corps could not ensure that the 40,000 acres
of wetlands restoration work required each year since 1983 is actually
taking place.

With the proposed regulations, the government is turning to private
businesses to improve compliance.

"I believe I'm going to love it," said John Ryan, president of Land
and Water Resources Inc., in Rosemont, Ill., a company that specializes
in such work. "It's great for the environment and for us. Now everybody
has to be held to the same high standards that we are."

Julie Sibbing, a wetlands expert with the National Wildlife
Federation, said the rule is too eager to adopt mitigation banking as
an ideal approach.

"It sets it up almost on a pedestal. It says that if you're going to
use a mitigation bank, it's almost an automatic OK," she said. "This is
a real business-friendly rule, not only for mitigation bankers but also
developers."

The lower 48 states in pre-colonial times had an estimated 220 million
acres of wetlands and streams, but 115 million acres of them had been
destroyed by 1997, according to government estimates.

President Bush promised on Earth Day in 2004 to restore or protect as
much as 3 million acres of wetlands over the next five years.

The administration now claims to have reversed the government's
estimated loss of 58,500 acres of wetlands annually.

But the National Wildlife Federation says the nation is still losing
130,000 acres of wetlands a year. The group said the administration is
including in its count of wetlands "open water systems" such as new
lakes, reservoirs and golf and stormwater retention ponds.

ON THE NET

Environmental Protection Agency background on wetlands: http://www.epa.gov/wetlandsmitigation

National Wildlife Federation: http://www.nwf.org