The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) has a plan in the works to keep wetland mitigation funds closer to home, and the group is asking Southeast communities to submit ideas for wetland and stream improvements.
Representatives from the watershed coalition were in Wrangell Tuesday to present their proposed Southeast Alaska Mitigation Fund, which is based on the federal Clean Water Act.
According to the Clean Water Act, if development will impact a wetland, river or tidal area, the developer has to compensate for that impact. Developers compensate by purchasing “credits” that put funds toward the restoration, enhancement, creation and preservation of wetlands.
Preservation is the only type of mitigation that is currently practiced in Southeast Alaska. That means if a developer impacts an acre of wetlands, an acre of wetlands anywhere in the region is protected from development in perpetuity, or forever.
But SAWC Communications Coordinator Angie Eldred said the Southeast Alaska Mitigation Fund would be an “in-lieu fee program” focused on the other aspects of mitigation.
“This program doesn’t focus on preservation. It’s restoration, enhancement and creation of aquatic resources,” Eldred said.
The program would aim to keep mitigation funds in the community to protect freshwater and marine resources that are important to local residents.
If someone wants to build a house in Wrangell that impacts a tidal area, the mitigation funds might currently go to preserve an acre of wetlands near Haines. But with the Southeast Alaska Mitigation Fund, the goal is to use that money for a local project, like improving fish habitat at Pat’s Creek.
The mitigation fund is still being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For now, Eldred said the SAWC is compiling a list of potential wetland restoration projects in the region.
“It gives an extra push. It gives a push to the Corps to say, ‘Hey, there are all these sites that are ready to rock.’ People have identified them. We can get things moving and get credits flowing,” Eldred said.
Having a list of potential restoration sites will also keep the watershed coalition prepared to tackle projects if the Southeast Alaska Mitigation Fund is approved.