Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance

Scope

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IMPORTANT UPDATE:

  • On March 18, the MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission passed Resolution FWC 21-01 recommending Assembly adoption of ORD 21-025 Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance.

  • On May 3, the MSB Planning Commission passed an amended Resolution PC 21-07 recommending Assembly adoption of ORD 21-025.

  • May 18 MSB Assembly Meeting: Informational Memo 21-051, Ordianance 21-025, and supporting materials will be introduced/noticed for public hearing.

  • June 1 MSB Assembly Meeting: Public hearing and action by the Assembly on ORD 21-025.

    • MSB Draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance Update

      At the June 1, 2021, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly held a public hearing on proposed Ordinance 21-025, Supplemental Wetlands Mitigation. During the hearing 19 persons spoke, with 10 supporting OR 21-025 and 9 opposed to the ordinance.

      The Assembly debated the ordinance, passing an amendment suggested by staff closing a loophole 4-3, with Assembly members Sumner, McKee, and Tew opposed to the amendment.

      After further debate, the Assembly voted down OR 21-025 as amended, with Assembly members Sumner, McKee, Tew, and Yundt opposed.

      You can view video of the proceedings including the staff report, public hearing, and Assembly deliberations on OR 21-025 here starting at minute 27: ASSEMBLY REGULAR MEETING on 2021-06-01 6:00 PM - Jun 1st, 2021 (granicus.com)

 

Supplemental Wetlands Mitigation Ordinance: Introduction

In 2019, the Assembly directed the Planning Department to develop a Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) after learning that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) did not require full mitigation for a large development project in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (MSB) that would permanently impact 200 acres of wetlands and the aquatic services they provide. 

Planning staff have developed a draft ordinance that, if passed, would require additional wetland mitigation credits for larger projects in the MSB when the USACE does not require full mitigation when issuing an individual wetland development permit. The definition of larger projects are those that impact five jurisdictional wetland acres or more. 

Wetlands make of about 25% of land area in the Mat-Su Borough. We know wetlands are highly specialized land types that provide essential services and functions to the community for free. Flood control, erosion control, water filtration, habitat for moose, salmon, and migratory birds, and groundwater recharge for drinking water supplies are all supported by wetlands. This ordinance ensures that as larger development occurs and wetlands are filled in the MSB, wetland impacts are mitigated over time to preserve their function and benefits to society.

The MSB needs its own wetland mitigation ordinance because Alaska District is not following its existing full mitigation rule (LINK) but uses available Alaska District office discretion when issuing permits.  Based our review of an USACE Alaska District memo, they are working off the assumption that Alaska has many wetlands so full mitigation is not necessary unless more that 5% of the wetlands in the impacted watershed have already been impacted (LINK). 

The MSB ordinance will require compensatory mitigation for wetland losses on larger projects (10+ acres) at a 1-to-1 level, the level USACE uses in the "2008 rule". Permanent wetland impacts must be fully offset by a minimum 1:1 ratio.. 

If adopted, the MSB supplemental wetland ordinance will require developers to submit their USACE wetlands development application and permit decisionmaterials.  Whenever the USACE does not require full mitigation of the project's wetland impacts, the MSB will require the developer to show evidence they have fully mitigated their project impacts via one of the three approved USACE mitigation options.  Once evidence of full mitigation is provided, the MSB will issue a land use permit to allow the developer to move forward with their project.
 
Important Project UPDATE (3/11/2021)
  • NEW updated draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) uploaded.
    • Ordinance title modified to specify what "large-scale" means specifically.
    • Deleted references to "jurisdictional waters" and replaced this with "waters of the United States"; removed the former from definitions.
    • Change in "Applicability":
      • (C)(1)(b): deleted "5", replaced with "10".
      • (C)(2): deleted "initiated with", replaced by "issued a permit decision document by"
  •  Based on questions from the 3/18/21 MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, the following changes to SWMO 17.31 were made:
    • New section created: 17.31.060 Nonconforming Uses
      • (C)(2) was moved to this section and labeled as (A).
        • (1) was added with language about modifying a USACE individual Permit and how 17.31 applies.
Important Project UPDATE (2/11/2021)
  • NEW updated draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) uploaded.
  • New comment period on updated draft SWMO initiated (see details below) - closes May 1, 2021.

NEW Tentative Project Timeline: (Note timeline changed 3/30/21)

1. MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission:

  • Introduced at 2/18/21 FWC meeting;
  • Public hearing/action at 3/18/21 FWC meeting.

2. Planning Commission:

  • Introduced at 4/19/21 PC meeting;
  • Public hearing/action at 5/3/21 PC meeting.

3. MSB Assembly:

  • Introduced at 5/18/21 Assembly meeting;
  • Public hearing/action at 6/1/21 Assembly meeting.
 
 
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. WATCH
  •  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

  1. MSB Wetland Fact Sheets:
    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.
  2.  USACE Mitigatin in Alaska for Regulatory Permitted Activities: explains mitigation types and strategies.
  3.  MSB Wetland Management Plan: Readable 2012 plan that will make you knowledgeable about MSB wetlands.
  4.  Draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance: the draft ordinance for your review- see sidebar on right for download link.

 

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

Draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance finalized; scheduled for review by policy makers.

Story Map - Wetlands

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Eye-to-eye encounter with a Sandhill Crane.

The most engagning way to learn about wetlands in the Mat-Su is through a GIS Story Map:

Wetland Story Map LINK - an attractive and fast way to learn about wetlands and the SWMO. Check it out!

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 (10+ acre) wetland fill projects 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.

 

 

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 wetlands - 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 about 10 individual permits for wetland development under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, an average of about two 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. For the time period of 2015-2019, the current draft of the SWMO would have only applied to two MSB wetland 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

 The draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance is the first item for download on the "Project Docs" on the menu sidebar.

Tentative Project Timeline (updated 5/2/2021):

1. MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission:

  • Introduced at 2/18/21 FWC meeting;
  • Public hearing/action at 5/3/21 FWC meeting.

2. Planning Commission:

  • Introduced at 4/19/21 PC meeting;
  • Public hearing/action at 4/19/21 PC meeting.

3. MSB Assembly:

  • Introduced at 5/18/21 Assembly meeting;
  • Public hearing/action at 6/1/21 Assembly meeting.

Public Comment

NOTE: a final draft of the SWMO is now available for download on the right sidebar for your further consideration and comment; PUBLIC COMMENT CLOSES MAY 1, 2021.

Wetland Mitigation Public Comment QR Code

We encourage your comments* on the draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO). We also encourage you to share your thoughts on the draft ordinance with members of the MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Planning Commission, and the MSB Assembly. We thank you in advance for your input.

Here is the link to leave public comment (closes May 1, 2021)

https://arcg.is/K59fm

The draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance is available for download from 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.

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General Timeline of Past Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance (SWMO) Work:

2012 – MSB Wetland Management Plan - Identifies best practices for maintaining wetland services; discusses role of local wetland ordinance. LINK

June 2018 – Mike Gracz publishes wetland loss assessment in expanded core area of MSB-LINK

2018 – USACE determines mitigation for POA 1995-120 Crooked Creek project through MSB**… LINK

  • 200 wetland acres and 1,363 linear feet of MSB streams permanently impacted.
  • USACE only required ~ 5 MSB wetland acres for compensatory mitigation
  • This got attention - what about the lost wetland services for fisheries, etc.?

3/2019 – Special Assembly workshop on wetlands and mitigation.

  • USACE – MSB FWC – ADF&G – EPA – MSB Assembly participants. LINK

5/2019 – MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission passed RS FWC19-03 supporting supplemental wetland mitigation.

Summer 2019 – Assemblyman Jim Sykes holds meetings with MSB staff to discuss various options for a possible Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance.

8/2019 – MSB Assembly passed RS 19-074 directing the Planning Department to continue developing provisions for supplemental wetland mitigation for large-scale projects.

9/2019 – Staff starts giving regular SWMO updates to the MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission at their monthly meetings.

3/2020 – SWMO update given to the joint MSB Assembly/Planning Commission meeting.

5/2020 – Planning Department Director Eileen Probasco turns over further SWMO work to Kim Sollien and Ted Eischeid, Planning Division.

6/15/2020 – Planning Commission meeting: staff gives report on draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance work with anticipated SWMO introduction for public hearing at the 8/17/2020 PC meeting.

7/2020 – SWMO Project Web Page created and published; discusses project, presents SWMO, and invites public comment on the draft ordinance. LINK

7/2020 – Staff develop a GIS Story Map on wetlands and the SWMO which is posted on project web page. LINK

7/2020 – SWMO Update given in May/June Manager’s Report. LINK

7/15/2020 – Ted Eischeid is interviewed on Radio Free Palmer program about wetlands and the SWMO. LINK

7/2020 – Planning Staff create five short videos on wetlands and the SWMO; these are posted on the project web page; Public Affairs director is asked to push these out on MSB media platforms. LINK

8//2020 – Staff analyze USACE public notices on MSB wetland permit applications, 2015-19.

9/2020 – Planning Division staff meet with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff to discuss USACE permitting, wetland mitigation, and SWMO.

9/2020 – Planning Department submits FOIA request to USACE for 2015-19 MSB wetland development permits issued.

10/2020 – Planning Division staff meet with Great Land Trust staff to discuss USACE permitting, wetland mitigation, and SWMO.

10/12/2020 – Planning staff give update on SWMO work to joint Assembly/Planning Commission meeting.

10/2020 – Planning Division staff meet with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staff to discuss USACE permitting, wetland mitigation, and SWMO.

11/2020 – MSB Planning Department receives FOIA materials requested from USACE.

12/2020 – Planning staff finish initial analysis of USACE FOIA materials.

12/15/2020 – MSB Assembly passes RS 20-123 which repeals RS 19-074 and stops further staff work on SWMO.

12/31/2020 – The deadline on the SWMO public comment period on the project web page prior to final edits to the draft SWMO.

1/2021 - Mayor Halter vetoes RS 20-123; work on the SWMO continues.

2/12/2021 - Public Comment period on updated SWMO begins (closes May 1, 2021).

3/18/2021 - MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission approves Resolution FWC 21-01 suppporting SWMO 21-025.

5/3/2021 - MSB Planning Commission approves Resolution PC 21-07 (amended) recommending Assembly adoption of OR 21-025.

6/1/2021 - MSB Assembly holds public hearing and considers action on OR 21-025.

FINAL RESULTS OF JUNE 1 ASSEMBLY MEETING:

MSB Draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance Update

At the June 1, 2021, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly held a public hearing on proposed Ordinance 21-025, Supplemental Wetlands Mitigation. During the hearing 19 persons spoke, with 10 supporting OR 21-025 and 9 opposed to the ordinance.

The Assembly debated the ordinance, passing an amendment suggested by staff closing a loophole 4-3, with Assembly members Sumner, McKee, and Tew opposed to the amendment.

After further debate, the Assembly voted down OR 21-025 as amended, with Assembly members Sumner, McKee, Tew, and Yundt opposed.

You can view video of the proceedings including the staff report, public hearing, and Assembly deliberations on OR 21-025 here starting at minute 27: ASSEMBLY REGULAR MEETING on 2021-06-01 6:00 PM - Jun 1st, 2021 (granicus.com)