Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance

Scope

Jumbotron image courtesy of Carl Johnson
 
Wetlands...
 
Wet - but not always. Important - but often considered wastelands. Useful - providing services for free, and invisibily, in the background. Common in the Mat-Su - but being lost at accelerated rates in some core watersheds.  Disappearing - threatening the high quality of life Mat-Su residents enjoy. Wetlands are often taken for granted, until they're gone and the services they provide disappear, eroding the high quality of life we enjoy here in the Mat-Su.
 
We know that wetlands are important and that they provide valuable ecosystem services for "free". We also know that they are critical for the fish we seek, the water we drink, the open space we enjoy. This project is about wetlands, and how we can best balance their value and the need for development in the rapidly growing Mat-Su Borough.
 
This project proposes a draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) that allows for development while mitigating wetland losses resulting from larger development projects. It is expected that the Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance will apply to less than two development projects annually, while fully mitigating the loss of wetland services from such development.
Iris Scope 
Goal

The goal of the Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) is to fully mitigate lost wetland functions from larger development projects impacting wetlands in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

 

Justification

This project was formally initiated by MSB Assembly Resolution 19-074 on 8/6/2019. Actions leading up to the passage of RS 19-074 include:

  •  Adoption of the MSB Wetland Management Plan in 2012.
  •  The 2018 USACE decision that dictated that a large pipeline project through the Mat-Su Borough only needed to mitigate about 2% of the wetland acres permanently impacted by the project.
  •  March 2019 MSB Assembly - special meeting held on wetland mitigation.
  •  May 2019 MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission - passed resolution FWC19-03 calling for supplemental wetland mitigation for larger development projects.
  • August 2019 MSB Assembly passes RS 19-074 directing the Planning Department to draft a wetland mitigation ordinance for consideration.

Conversations around the topic of wetland mitigation have supported development, but also the need to preserve wetland functions as they benefit citizens, especially in regards to fisheries and anadromous fish like salmon. The result has been the draft SWMO which is intended to be conservative and limited, but also to fully mitigate lost wetland functions from larger wetland fill projects, while attempting to preserve the high quality of life Mat-Su citizens presently enjoy.

 

Description

The SWMO, in brief, requires any larger development in the Mat-Su Borough impacting wetlands that requires a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) "individual permit" under section 404 of the Clean Water Act to obtain a "Compensatory Mitigation Certificate of Compliance" (CMCC), in addition to the USACE individual permit, before development can commence. This CMCC is issued when the developer provides documentation showing that they have fully mitigated the lost wetland services the USACE determines in their permit review. This process utilizes the already-required USACE individual permit paperwork and is meant to minimize additonal time burden for the developer or MSB staff. For context, from 2015 through 2019 there were fewer than 10 individual wetland development permits processed by the USACE for larger Mat-Su development impacting wetlands.

 

Learn more

You can download other informational materials on wetlands from the right sidebar, including the draft SWMO.

Items available for download on upper right sidebar:

  1.  Wetlands Fact Sheet 1: wetlands defined, how to identify, and wetland types.
  2. Wetlands Fact Sheet 2: wetland functions and economic values explained.
  3. Wetlands Fact Sheet 3: permitting, and mitigation of wetland impacts.
  4.  USACE Mitigatin in Alaska for Regulatory Permitted Activities: explains mitigation types and strategies.
  5.  MSB Wetland Management Plan: Readable 2012 plan that will make you knowledgeable about MSB wetlands.
  6.  Draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance: the draft ordinance for your review.

 

Project Benefits

Fish Jumping

This project will minimize the loss of wetland services to the Mat-Su Borough citizens from large developments. The ecological services provided by wetlands include:

  • Fish and Wildlife Habitat - notably, wetlands provide juvenile salmon habitat, as well as maintains water quality for salmon spawning.
  • Water Quality - wetlands filter/clean runoff water before it enters lakes and streams.
  • Flood Control - wetlands act like sponges, storing flood water and minimizing the impact from floods.
  • Groundwater - wetlands help recharge groundwater, providing abundant well water for human use, as well as providing cool groundwater inputs into local streams/lakes, providing consistent flow and temperatures that support cold water fisheries.
  • Erosion Protection - wetlands help buffer shorelines from excessive erosion.
  • Recreation, Education, Cultural Resources, Open Space - wetlands have historically drawn human activity for the resources they provide.

You can learn more about the benefits of wetlands at this LINK.

Project Status

Planning underway on draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance.

Overview - Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance

Story Map aerial wetland

The Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) is meant to apply only to larger wetland fill projects that require a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers "individual permit" for wetland fill under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. From 2015 through 2019, fewer than 10 individual permit applications for this were processed by the USACE.

The SWMO will:

1. Be limited and conservative.

2. Apply only to larger wetland fill projects, ones that require a USACE "individual" development permit.

3. Minimize red tape by using already required USACE paperwork.

4. Minimize staff time resulting in a timely turnaround for developers.

5. Fully mitigate lost wetland services while allowing larger developments to take place.

6. Require developers obtain a "Compensatory Mitigation Certificate of Compliance" (CMCC) from the MSB prior to work on the project, along with any other required federal and state permits. The CMCC certifies that the developer has fully mitigated unavoidable wetland development impacts using accepted USACE options.

 

 

Story Map - Wetlands

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Eye-to-eye encounter with a Sandhill Crane.

 

Story Map LINK - an attractive and fast way to learn about wetlands and the SWMO.

FAQ - Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO)

FAQ Image

1. I'm a small land owner who wants to develop my property, some of which is covered by wtlands - how does the SWMO affect me?

ANSWER: The SWMO is designed to address only larger wetland development projects, those that require a USACE "individual" permit. For the five years from 2015-2019, the USACE only processed 8 individual permits for wetland development under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, an average of about 1.5 permits per year. Most small wetland development permits are covered by the USACE "nationwide" permit, and the SWMO does not involve/impact these smaller projects. You can learn more about USACE wetland development permitting HERE.

 

2. For the larger wetland development projects that are covered by this ordinance, what does it cost to fully mitigate wetland losses due to development?

ANSWER: This varies, depending upon the size of the project, the types of wetlands impacted, and the mitigation option chosen. The SWMO utilizes USACE paperwork and calculations for mitigation. The SWMO requires these large developments certify that they have fully mitigated the unavoidable impacts of their projects on wetlands using one of the three USACE approved mitigation strategies before development commences (and all legally required development permits are acquired). Often the USACE permit permits full mitigation, and the SWMO incurs additional cost for mitigation only in those situations when the USACE does not require full mitigation for wetland impacts.

 

3. How much time does the SWMO add to the permitting process?

ANSWER: The SWMO utlizes required USACE paperwork and calculations, so it is expected that utilizing this common paperwork will minimize review time and decision making on the part of the borough.

 

4. What are my wetland mitigation options for wetland impacts? 

ANSWER: The USACE accepts three methods for wetland impact mitigation, which the SWMO also mirrors. You can learn more about the USACE wetland mitigation options HERE.

 

5. Who will administer the SWMO if approved?

ANSWER: The MSB Planning Department. The SWMO utilizes the paperwork the developer already has to do for obtaining a USACE individual wetland development permit for larger projects not covered by the nationwide permit. We anticipate processing about two permits for the MSB each year.

 

Draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance

Draft WMO Screenshot

The draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) is the last item listed under the "Project Docs" sidebar.

 

Tentative Project Timeline:

 

1. June 16 - Staff Report to Planning Commission: Overview of Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) project plan.

2. July 10 - Draft SWMO released for public comment (through December 31, 2020)..

3. TBD - MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission action on SWMO

4. December 1 - Assembly considers motion to refer the SWMO to the Planning Commission.

5. December 31 - Public comment through this web page closes.

6. January 4, 2021 - SWMO introduced for public hearing at Planning Commission (depending upon action at the Dec. 1 Assembly meeting).

7. January 18 - Planning Commission public hearing on WMO and possible action.

8. February 16 - SWMO introduced for public hearing at MSB Assembly.

9. March 2 - MSB Assembly public hearing on SWMO and possible action.

 

Public Comment

Wetland Mitigation Public Comment QR Code

We encourage your comments* on the draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO). Substantive comments are most useful, especially ones that point out any unforeseen issues with the SWMO as drafted. We are taking public comment through this particular instrument through December 31, 2020. We thank you in advance for your input.

Here is the link to leave public comment: 

https://arcg.is/K59fm

The draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance is the last item listed under the "Project Docs" sidebar.

Media

chris boese 55lNq9EcdL8 unsplash

 

July 15 - Radio Free Palmer discussion (23 minutes) about the draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO)- Listen HERE.

 

Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) Video Series:

 A series of five short videos explaining wetlands and the SWMO:

Video 1: Introduction to wetlands and video series.

Video 2: Wetlands benefits and services.

Video 3: Mat-Su residents and priorities research.

Video 4: History of events leading up to SMWO.

Video 5: SMWO summarized.