The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) signed an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Environmental Protection Agency to expand options for developers that need to address wetlands impacted by development projects. The agreement allows a developer to pay an in-lieu fee as part of its mitigation obligations.
Anyone planning a project that affects a wetland needs a permit from the DNR. In addition, if the impact affects the “waters of the United States,” the applicant is required to obtain a Federal 404 Permit. If a project cannot avoid adverse wetland impacts, State and Federal law both require an applicant to mitigate the impact to wetlands. Previously, the mitigation options were either (i) the purchase of a wetland mitigation credit from an approved wetland mitigation bank or (ii) completion of a qualified mitigation project. Traditionally, there was a very tight supply of wetland mitigation credits and, more often than not, a qualified mitigation project was not feasible. The newly approved in-lieu fee program provides that an individual permit applicant can pay the in-lieu fee to the DNR’s sponsored Wetland Conservation Trust to satisfy the compensatory mitigation requirement for both State and Federal permits.
The in-lieu program will significantly ease the logjam of good projects delayed by the lack of compensatory mitigation options. Importantly, it will also provide the DNR the financial resources to preserve, restore and establish quality wetlands in Wisconsin. It continues a tradition of environmentally responsible development that has been a hallmark of the State of Wisconsin and the Department of Natural Resources.
By Robert C. Procter & Buck Sweeney of Axley