Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mitigation Banking Con and the Dolphin's Con. By Geniusofdespair

The Miami Herald reported on two con games going on: Marlins Dolphin's deal and mitigation banking. Patricia Mazzei breaks down the 80 plus page stadium deal that the mayor brokered - good reading. Also Carl Hiaasen wrote critically about the Marlin's Dophin's deal today.

Truthfully, I am more upset by the mitigation banking con. If you don't know what that is and don't care, don't bother reading Eye on Miami. This blog isn't for you because we care deeply about mitigation banking.

Mitigation banking is where developers are ALLOWED to fill in our precious wetlands if they create some wetlands elsewhere. It is a crock of shit and always has been. I hate mitigation banking. They even have an Association called Florida Association of Mitigation Banking (I would hate to look at that Board) because it is so widespread.  Even the St. Joe company owns and operates 2 mitigation banks. Makes me want to puke. There is a 161 page report on the effectiveness of mitigation banks that was done in 2007. If you want to read an excerpt hit "read more."

Anyway, back to the Miami Herald, Fred Grimm wrote an excellent column about an incident of a mitigation banking ripoff complete with lobbyist interference, political appointees and The Department of Environmental Protection and one woman on staff that refused to bend:
On a thirsty tract up in Clay County, some savvy businessmen pulled off a nearly magical act of hydraulic engineering. They converted hundreds of acres of dry piney woods into an extremely profitable wetlands mitigation bank. And they did it without water.

How did the folks behind the not-so-wet Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank do it? They hired an influential lobbyist. They leaned on the Department of Environmental Protection and the St. Johns River Water Management District to get rid of pesky regulators who saw the purported wetlands as mostly a mirage.

When state regulations governing mitigation banks didn’t jibe with its business plan, Highlands Ranch’s corporate counsel simply dropped by DEP headquarters and rewrote the rules.
Fred Grimm also wrote a good description of what mitigation banking is (better than mine):
Mitigation banks were conceived as a market-driven solution to the destruction of wetlands. Mitigation bankers buy up former swampland, restore it to wetlands. Regulators from DEP or local water districts then employ the state formula for awarding mitigation bank credits. Developers who plan to drain wetlands elsewhere buy those credits from the banks, making it, at least in theory, an even swap — an acre of restored wetlands for every acre lost to development.

Read more about 2007 Mitigation Banking study:

It is hard to reduce 161 pages to one paragraph but here is one:

One of the purported benefits of wetland mitigation banks is that mitigation is in place prior to wetland impacts, which is an improvement over on-site mitigation that allows for the impact of one wetland resource prior to the enhancement or creation of another. However, for mitigation banks, it is unclear how much wetland function is actually provided at the time of credit releases. Initial credit releases are based on recording of conservation easement, often with no additional mitigation activities or site improvements, such that there may be a temporary loss associated with this practice. Overall, most of the wetland mitigation banks showed potential to provided increased wetland function following restoration. However, many wetland mitigation banks were limited by their position in the landscape, managed hydrologic regimes and altered benefits to downstream systems, water quality concerns, or other barriers to attaining full function. Having realistic expectations of the potential functional gain and clearly defining reference standard conditions may lessen the potential of net loss in wetland mitigation banks. As noted in compensatory mitigation studies in Massachusetts (Brown a nd Veneman 2001), California (Ambrose et al. 2006), and Ohio (Mack and Micacchion 2006), while most wetland mitigation banks may have the potential to meet permit success criteria, this does not necessarily equate to their achieving full wetland function. Basic ecological principles can better dictate a more sensible way to plan, implement, and manage mitigation banks, with considerations including edge effects such as roads and towers, core to edge ratios for habitat, fragmentation and habitat loss in the landscape, and species interaction. If these basic principles are over looked, then the assumption of achieving function has no validity. Mitigation banks must be assessed realistically for credit potential.

Conclusion: Return of full wetland function may be an impossible goal given current and future human development activities across the Florida landscape. A more realistic outlook on mitigation outcomes would probably reduce the amount of potential credits allocated for a particular site. Some may argue that this would reduce the economic incentive of mitigation banking. However, economic evaluation is beyond the scope of this study and existing state wetland regulatory rules.


Anonymous said...

Per its Florida articles of incorporation, the FL Assoc of Mitigation Banking board of directors consists of Dennis Benbow, Orlando; Jack Spillane, Winter Park; Leslie D. Alderman, Jr., Ft. Myers; William Colbert, Lake Mary; Bill Casey, Brandon, and Donald H. Ross, North Port.

Anonymous said...

For a real stomach turner, one can always read Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite's "Paving Paradise, Florida's Vanishing Wetlands" to get the real scoop on Florida mitigation banks' phony numbers game.

Anonymous said...

FPL has a mitigation bank, it may or may not work well. The biggest boondoggle was 8.5 sq mile mitigation bank. Ask the county how well that worked (it did not).