FAQ - Mitigation Banking
What is mitigation?
Mitigation consists of restoration, enhancement, and preservation activities approved by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to offset for unavoidable impacts to wetlands and streams under USACE jurisdiction/authorized by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
What is a mitigation bank?
A market-based approach to mitigation that allows degraded aquatic resources to be restored, approved by public agency, and set aside to compensate for future impacts to jurisdictional wetlands and streams. The creation of a mitigation bank establishes credits based on site restoration activities and rules and regulations set forth by the USACE and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mitigation banks operate similarly to other financial institutions in which transactions are described in terms of credits and debits.
Who can sponsor a mitigation bank?
Mitigation banks can be sponsored by public or private entities consisting of individual landowners, private companies, investors, municipal governments, etc.
What government agencies review and approve mitigation banks?
The Interagency Review Team (IRT) is responsible for review, comment, and approval of mitigation banks. The IRT is comprised of the following agencies.
- USACE (lead agency)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
- Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA EPD)
What are the minimum land requirements to establish a mitigation bank?
- A stream mitigation bank must have the potential to restore or enhance approximately 4,000 linear feet of degraded first- or second-order streams.
- Riparian stream buffers must be a minimum width of 50 feet (measured from the stream bank), maximum credit is received for 200-foot buffers.
- A wetland mitigation bank must have the potential to restore or enhance approximately 100 acres of degraded wetlands.
- Sites that do not meet these minimum thresholds in size may be combined with other sites within the same watershed to achieve an umbrella mitigation bank.
- Mitigation banks that combine wetland and stream restoration activities will not have to meet threshold size requirements for both activities.
What restrictions are placed on the land within the mitigation bank boundary?
- The land included in a mitigation bank boundary includes all restored, enhanced, or preserved areas as well as all buffers (such as riparian and wetland buffers) for which the bank sponsor is receiving credit. The mitigation bank may comprise only a portion of a tract of land where land outside of the bank boundary is not encumbered by restrictions. Areas within the mitigation bank boundary are placed under a restrictive covenant which limits the activity that can be conducted within the bank boundary to passive, recreational activities (e.g. hunting, fishing, hiking, etc.).
- Activities such as timber harvesting, agriculture, cattle grazing, development, etc. are prohibited within the bank boundaries. However, these activities can occur on other areas of your property as long as the property under restrictive covenant (i.e. mitigation bank) is not disturbed by these activities.
- Lands outside of the mitigation bank boundary may be placed under a separate less-restrictive conservation easement for additional tax advantages.
What is a degraded stream or wetland?
Degraded streams are streams that have lost biological function and habitat due to channelization, impounding, livestock use, reduced buffer, increased runoff, and other human-inducted alteration. Examples of degraded streams:
- Incised streams
- Ditched streams
- Piped streams
- Channelized/straightened streams
- Impounded streams (i.e. ponds and lakes)
- Eroding streambanks
Degraded wetlands are typically areas that were formerly wet areas that have been drained for agricultural use. Examples of degraded wetland areas:
- Ditched fields
- Tiled areas
- Prior converted cropland
Degraded riparian areas are typically planted pine monoculture, pasture grasses, and agricultural crops located adjacent to streams.
Are there incentives for credits to be purchased from a mitigation bank?
- The EPA has recently issued the “New Rule” on mitigation, which establishes a preference for the use of mitigation banks over the other two recognized forms of mitigation (permittee-responsible and in-lieu fee).
- Permit applicants are encouraged to purchase mitigation credits from a mitigation bank (if available) for the majority of Section 404 permits currently issued.
- The Savannah District of the USACE will be issuing revised guidelines for mitigation banking in Georgia based on the EPA’s “New Rule”.
How many credits does a stream or wetland mitigation bank generate?
- A credit does not equate to an acre or specific length of stream, rather the number of credits generated at a potential mitigation bank, within the state of Georgia, is determined using factors outlined in the USACE Savannah District’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Compensatory Mitigation, dated March 2004.
- Stream credits are generated from two sources: (1) stream restoration and/or enhancement, (2) riparian restoration and/or preservation. No more than 50% of stream credits in a mitigation bank can come from preservation. Wetland credits are generated from two sources: (1) the restoration, enhancement, or preservation of wetlands and (2) the establishment of an upland buffer. No more than 50% of generated credits can come from preservation and upland buffer.
- A single bank can generate both wetland and stream credits if both features are restored.
How much do mitigation credits sell for and who determines credit prices?
- The value of a credit is determined by the free market. Regulatory agencies do not participate in setting the value of mitigation credits.
- Credit prices vary in each service area and fluctuate with supply and demand. For example wetland credits prices are traditionally much higher in the Piedmont than in the Coastal Plain due to the greater amount of wetlands available for restoration in the Coastal Plain
What costs are involved in establishing a mitigation bank?
- Costs of land (if not already owned)
- Bank agent (ecological consultant) fees for baseline studies, required reports, agency coordination, restoration design and plans, and construction documents
- Surveying fees (boundary and topography)
- Legal fees for establishing restrictive covenant/conservation easement Restoration construction and planting costs
- Annual monitoring costs (seven years active monitoring)
- Annual maintenance and contingency costs Long-term maintenance of property beyond annual monitoring.
Is there potential to get assistance with startup costs? There is the potential for a landowner to partner with an experienced mitigation banker to share in the costs of bank implementation.
What geographic limitations are there on the sale of mitigation credits?
Credits are sold within designated primary or secondary service areas, which are delineated based on major river drainage basins (e.g. Upper Chattahoochee, Middle Chattahoochee, Upper Oconee, etc) corresponding to the United States Geological Service (USGS) eight-digit hydrologic unit code (HUC).
What market considerations should be evaluated in establishing a mitigation bank?
- Historical, existing, and anticipated future credit price in market service area
- Growth potential in market service area requiring the need for mitigation credits
- Existing and potential competing mitigation banks in market service area.
How do I know if there is mitigation banking potential on my property? For most sites, Ecological Solutions, Inc. can conduct a one-day site feasibility study and provide feedback on credit potential for a particular site.
What are the steps in establishing and operating a mitigation bank?
The broad steps required in mitigation bank approval by the IRT in Georgia:
- Site feasibility study - One-day site review and memo
- Draft Prospectus - Site summary and overview
- Prospectus - Site justification and suitability; sponsor/agent qualifications
- Draft Banking Instrument - Provides mitigation plan, baseline data results, and financial assurances
- Banking Instrument - Provides final mitigation, monitoring, contingency, and long-term maintenance and plan
- Preparation of restrictive covenant - Provides metes and bounds description of site and outlines restricted uses
- Design and construction plans - Engineering plans for restoration construction and planting
- Construction - Implementation of restoration plans by experienced contractor
- Permitting - Requires local, state, and federal permitting as with any construction project
- Annual monitoring - Seven years of monitoring is required to document restoration success
- Long-term maintenance - Bank sponsor is required to maintain fencing, signage, etc. for approximately 20 years.
When can I start selling credits?
Credits are released incrementally as the bank reaches key milestones. The initial credit sales will not occur until all documentation has been approved by the IRT, the restrictive covenant is recorded, and construction is initiated