County contemplates plan for wetlandsDouglas County is considering a plan to balance wetland restoration and the need for development in rural communities.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Douglas County is considering a plan to balance wetland restoration and the need for development in rural communities.
And county officials plan to take the issue to Madison next month to discuss it with state agencies.
“There are two types of wetland restoration projects that go on in the county, and that is voluntary restoration and then there is required mitigation,” said Christine Ostern, land conservation officer for Douglas County. “… There has been a dramatic increase in those types of projects lately. That has led to some concern about how those projects are sited on the landscape.”
It’s raised questions on who has a say in where the projects are sited, she said, and that typically falls to wetland regulators having the final say.
That leaves Douglas County without an organized way to determine how to site wetland restoration projects and causing concern among town officials who don’t have a way to give input on proposed projects.
Ostern said a provision in federal law allows the county to develop a plan that regulators like the Army Corp of Engineers must follow when a when making decisions on where wetland restoration and mitigation projects are sited on the landscape.
The plan requires a lot of environmental study and review that assures the Army Corp. that if it follows that plan it would provide the most ecological benefit.
“We can also include some social aspects into that plan,” Ostern said. Those social aspects can include determining the impact on a town’s tax base, future development prospects and property values for owners adjoining a wetland site, if restoration sites are developed in a particular area, she said.
She said by developing a watershed plan, those kinds of questions could be addressed and help guide where wetland mitigation sites are developed and wetlands are restored.
The plan would have to be approved by the Army Corp of Engineers.
Where voluntary restoration projects are considered, the plan could also make property owners eligible for grant funding to offset the cost of the restoration project because they would be following a plan accepted by local decision-makers, Ostern said.
“We also think this plan would be very beneficial to businesses, developers and wetland bankers who would be planning for doing wetland mitigation,” Ostern said. “For example, when Enbridge expands their pipeline, they need to do wetland mitigation.”
She said by looking at the county’s watershed plan, Enbridge officials would know where mitigation sites are set aside for just that purpose.
“It makes it much easier, in that example, for Enbridge to do their expansion,” Ostern said.
Wetland bankers, private or governmental like the city of Superior which has a Special Area Management Plan, to identify areas and have input into the plan’s development.
The county is working with the Lake Superior Natural Estuarine Research Reserve in an effort to tap funding only available to one of the national’s NERR to help develop the plan.
Ostern said work is underway to develop a pre-proposal to outline the project and is expected to be submitted soon to determine if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is interested in a full proposal.
“It is complicated,” said Douglas County Zoning Administrator Steve Rannenberg. “… we understand that wetlands in Douglas County can be considered a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view, but it’s a reality we have to deal with. If we are uniquely poised to position Douglas County to go through a planning process that meets the federal requirement and aids in expediting applications to allow development projects to occur, without unnecessary delay. Without the plan, it just extends the permitting process for a given project. We can expedite those in the future with this plan in place.”