Wetlands and the possibility of working with landowners on sites that could be used for mitigation were discussed by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors during their March 27 meeting.
Rick Hopper, engineer with Jacobson-Westergard & Associates, began the discussion, "Maybe we could save some money or make it easier to get approval for those sites."
He referred to Drainage District 29 and noted that the state engineer was reviewing it.
"We have enough wetlands to deal with on DD 29, DD 17, and DD 7 that it's an option worth pursuing," said Hopper. "I can't guarantee we'll
save money, but it's much easier to get approved if it's in the same, general area, and get the acres we need."
Jeremy Thilges, Natural Resources Conservation Service, stated that he and Hopper had met a couple weeks ago to discuss the idea with civil engineers and biologists.
"There are enough acres to deal with it. Honestly, you may have a hard time finding that many credits in mitigation banks when you combine these three drainage districts together," said Thilges. "That's the easier way to deal with them, but you're going to be sending local dollars to who knows where."
Thilges noted that mitigation banks are not established in this general area.
He added, "If you're looking at spending money on local contractors, the right sites could even be mitigation where a county conservation board manages and maintains it, you have the possibility of those dollars staying local."
According to Thilges, it is easier to use local acres because there isn't the issue of being in different watersheds.
"In the right scenario, if it could happen, there might be the potential to have excess credits in there for projects down the road. For the county, it could be road way or anything like that," said Thilges.
Supervisor Ed Noonan asked if the county could get credit for banking sites like that.
"It depends on how it's done," Thilges answered. "If there's any type of federal funding involved in it at all, it probably wouldn't be."
"Has anyone looked into that?" Noonan asked.
"No, we haven't had the need to look at it," said Thilges. "Mitigation has to be newly restored or constructed wetlands. It depends on the source of funding, too."
Thilges shared that there will be many CRP [Conservation Reserve Program] acres in Palo Alto County that will be expiring soon.
"Those acres could be used for this," Thilges said.
Noonan asked, "How do you draw out a wetland?"
Thilges responded that a wetland is bigger than just the water. Water, vegetation, and soil type are things that are considered when determining to classify the site as a restored wetland.
"Could they put it into both the wetland program and mitigation?" wondered Noonan.
"The mitigation sites are going to have an easement on them for mitigation. It can't be in two federal programs," said Thilges.
Hopper interjected that the county needs to decide the general path to take.
"The thing is we can be working towards a plan as long as a plan is in place with deadlines and dates," said Thilges.
"As long as you have an agreement in place and have the dates, the landowners can farm that ground. Otherwise, they don't even want it planted this season," said Hopper.
Noonan asked how many acres could be mitigated.
"It's over 40 acres perhaps between all the projects you've got going," said Hopper.
Noonan asked, "How much do you think they'll have to pay an acre to get these?"
"The one site that is available now is at $10,000, which is a bargain at this point," Hopper replied.
He explained that the goal is for the mitigation area to pay for itself in the end, where the cost of the 40 acres being mitigated would come from the landowners in the district where the improvement is being done. Interim funding would be needed, however.
Supervisor Keith Wirtz, "You could do it with stamped warrants."
"I guess the landowner could always sell them to somebody," Hopper suggested.
Thilges noted that another option might be the Heritage Foundation and other entities that will purchase land with the agreement that the title transfers upon payment from the entity that they're working with.
"There's some possibilities out there with the potential of keeping local dollars local," said Thilges.
"I think it's a good idea," said Wirtz, bringing the discussion to a close.