Developers working in two Pierce County watersheds have a
new option to offset unavoidable construction impacts to wetlands and other
The county’s new in-lieu fee program provides developers
in the Chambers-Clover Creek Watershed and a portion of the Nisqually Watershed
the opportunity to buy credits through the program rather than building their
own project to mitigate unavoidable impacts to wetlands. The credits represent
the expected cost of compensating for the lost or degraded wetland, stream or
other freshwater habitat. In addition, the credits will pay for maintaining and
monitoring two wetlands created by Pierce County, running the in-lieu fee
program and expanding the program in the future.
Pierce County built the two wetland mitigation sites to
reduce the amount of time between losing a wetland area to development and
replacing the lost functions at a mitigation site. The 16-acre South Midland
Wetland Preserve was built in 2008 and the 16-acre Larchmont Wetland Preserve
was built in 2013.
“The program helps balance our community’s growth with
preserving the environment we all share,” said Pierce County Executive Pat
McCarthy. “I appreciate the collaboration between Pierce County and its state
and federal partners to make this program become a reality.”
Before the in-lieu fee program, developers either created
new wetlands on site or bought property elsewhere to replace the impacted
wetland. They also had to pay for maintaining and monitoring that new wetland
for several years, as well as ensuring that the new wetland did not fail. Those
options still exist, when appropriate.
The in-lieu fee program is available for use by both
private and public projects. When developers apply for permits to construct
their project, the county and other regulatory agencies will determine if the
application qualifies for the in-lieu fee program. Developers can decide if
they want to participate. Other alternatives to compensate for wetland loss on
a site must be unfeasible in order to qualify for the program.
One of the main objectives of the in-lieu fee program is
to provide high-quality, successful, long-term mitigation addressing the needs
of the watersheds. The program will provide public benefit by applying
mitigation resources toward the improvement of ecologically-impaired lands in
Pierce County is the second county in Washington to have
an in-lieu fee program. The county partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, Puget Sound Partnership
and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop the program.
The Corps provided technical assistance and legal review
of the program to ensure it complied with federal regulations.
“The Corps believes that effective in-lieu fee programs
are vital to helping it protect the aquatic environment, efficiently administer
our regulatory program, and provide the public with fair, timely, and
reasonable decisions,” said Gail Terzi, Army Corps of Engineers mitigation
specialist. “Such programs are very intentional in how they embrace a watershed
approach, and as such, are optimal tools for addressing watershed needs.”
The Washington State Department of Ecology provided $2.2
million for the county to develop the Larchmont site and develop the program.
This partnership makes Pierce County’s in-lieu fee program unique because it is
the only county to have a site built in advance using state grant dollars.
Pierce County paid $3 million to buy property and develop the South Midland
Wetland Reserve using Surface Water Management fees.
“We’re excited to see our state grant funding turn into a
project that will have such a positive impact on the environment,” said
Patricia Johnson, Washington State Department of Ecology wetland mitigation
specialist. “The Pierce County in-lieu fee program is unique because it has
mitigation sites that have already been constructed and are already providing
important ecological functions.”
The concept of the in-lieu fee program came from the
Puget Sound Partnership, which drafted the original proposal. Pierce County
used that initial work to create its program.
"This program provides an efficient and effective
market-based mechanism that balances the needs for human development and
natural systems," said Sheida R. Sahandy, Puget Sound Partnership
executive director. "By investing in large, contiguous restoration
projects to offset the negative impacts of development, we are vastly
increasing the likelihood of long-term ecological success. For the developers,
it is fast and predictable. It is a win-win."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also provided
significant technical expertise as the program was drafted and refined.
"The Environmental Protection Agency appreciates the
county's proactive effort to protect these important urban watersheds,"
said David Allnutt, director of the EPA’s Office of Ecosystems, Tribal and
Public Affairs. "Urban watersheds and their aquatic resources play a
valuable role in the health of the overall ecosystem in this area. This program
will not only offset impacts due to large or small construction projects, but
will result in large-scale improvements to the watershed."
For more information about the program and how to
participate, visit www.co.pierce.wa.us/inlieufee. PCTV also posted a story
about the project at: https://youtu.be/k8MUfDrtzyg.
Mike Livingston-Halliday, Pierce County Public Works and
Utilities public information specialist
Patricia Graesser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public
Jeff Philip, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency public
Jessica Payne, Washington State Department of Ecology
Alicia Lawver, Puget Sound Partnership, public
Cook Graesser, APR
Public Affairs Office
Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers