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 3-4, 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 & History
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 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. This proposed ordinance did not pass in the MSB Assembly.
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.
NEW Tentative Project Timeline: (Note timeline changed 3/30/21)
1. MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission:
3. MSB Assembly:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
You can learn more about the benefits of wetlands at this LINK.
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!
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.
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.
The draft Supplemental Wetland Mitigation Ordinance is the first item for download on the "Project Docs" on the menu sidebar.
Project Timeline History:
1. MSB Fish and Wildlife Commission:
2. Planning Commission:
3. MSB Assembly: