As part of American Wetlands Month, MI Environment looks at Michigan's Wetland Banking Program.
The number of public and private wetland bank sites in Michigan has increased by leaps and bounds since the first one was established in 1999, with 42 now in place in all areas of the state. By the end of the year, several more bank sites are expected to be finalized.
Wetlands serve as "nature's kidneys" -- absorbing vast amounts of stormwater that would otherwise flood basements and overwhelm sewer systems, providing habitat for wildlife and a nursery for young fish, filtering out pollutants from water as it flows into streams and lakes, and helping control erosion.
Wetland banks are new wetland areas, or "banks" established in advance of anticipated losses. Wetlands established in a mitigation bank provide "credits" which can be sold to permit applicants or used by the bank sponsor to meet permit conditions.
EGLE's Mitigation Banking Program has several goals:
Although the availability of mitigation bank credits will not ensure permit issuance, mitigation banking does offer an alternative, and potentially more effective means of complying with wetland permit conditions.
Although most of the private bank sites service the southern half of Michigan's lower peninsula which is where the greatest need is, bank sponsors are starting to expand into northern Michigan and the Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This is resulting in an increase in the service area are of bank sites across the state. The bank sites that are currently on the registry total approximately 2000 acres of wetland bank acreage.
In addition to an increase in private banking, there are several new private/public partnerships that have recently been established to increase banking for public projects. The Michigan Municipal Wetland Alliance (MMWA) is currently working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish bank sites on DNR land that will service drain commissioners and other public entities (such as road commissions). These banks were designed using grant funding from EGLE's WMBF Program. In addition, the County Road Association of Michigan (CRAM) recently established a banking program for Public Transportation Agencies (PTAs). These PTA's are also working with private bank sponsors to design and manage a some of their bank sites.
Wetland banking in Michigan does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Several new private bank sponsors have recently submitted proposals to establish additional bank sites. Many of these bank sites are being proposed in watersheds that are currently serviced by other banks so the price of bank credits is likely to decrease in those areas. In addition, news of several large upcoming projects (utility corridors, mine sites, wind farms, etc.) are incentivizing private bank sponsors to establish banks in areas that were formerly less attractive. This will result in an increase in the service area of bank sites resulting in even greater availability of bank credits across the state.
Photo caption: Aerial view of wetland bank.