Pristine Long Beach land approved as 'wetland mitigation bank'

By: Barbara LaBoe - Apr 11, 2013
Source: The Daily News

A Longview ecological consulting company is banking on the future while preserving the past with its new “wetland mitigation bank” near Long Beach. It’s the first of its type in the state.

Ecological Land Services Inc. is establishing the 76-acre area north of Long Beach off State Route 103. The bank will permanently preserve native habitat in compensation for land disturbed or destroyed by development elsewhere in the region. Developers can buy credits from the bank — essentially helping pay for the preservation of the pristine 76-acre plot — to make up for the destruction of wetlands on their own property.

In most cases, wetland mitigation work is required on-site, but that’s not always practical due to location or cost. In those cases, developers can turn to the state and federally approved wetland banks in their region.

The Long Beach Wetland Mitigation Bank was approved last month. It’s among 12 wetlands mitigation banks in the state, but the only one that has never been disturbed by humans.

Wetland banks must go through a lengthy review with state and federal regulators. But, aside from a fence and no trespassing signs, the Long Beach bank looks like any other piece of undeveloped land. Look closer, though, and company and regulators see much more.

The land is so untouched that it’s been designated the state’s first “preservation wetland bank” meaning the main goal is to just keep it as is. The other banks in the state create wetlands, engineering them, so to speak, with specific plants and land management techniques. The Long Beach site, however, is unique because it has remained undisturbed, said Curt Hart, spokesman with the state Department of Ecology.

Beavers are already thriving on the site and some parts are only accessible by canoe. There also are a couple of thousand-year-old spruces in the forested areas.

“It’s awe-inspiring when you go out there and see it all,” Gail Terzi, a mitigation program manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, said Thursday.

“This land is now protected in perpetuity for wildlife,” company President Francis Naglich said at the site Wednesday. “It won’t be logged, it won’t be turned into cranberry bogs and there won’t be houses developed on it.”

Naglich and Timothy Haderly, the company’s vice president, also hope to see a return on their company’s investment, which they say has been about $300,000 so far, including the land purchase.

The company bought the land from a private landowner six years ago. They’d done consulting work on several other wetlands banks in the state and saw potential in Long Beach, Naglich said.

They didn’t expect it to take five years to get the land bank properly designated, but Naglich said Wednesday that they’re happy to now be moving forward. They expect to offer the first credits sometimes this summer.

The bank has been approved to offer 10.92 credits. No firm price has been set, but Naglich estimates each credit could go for between $65,000 to $90,000. That could double the company’s investment, but Naglich cautions it could take between five to 15 years before all the credits are sold.

The amount of credits a project needs to offset its mitigation requirement is determined by state or federal officials. One very large project could buy all the credits or smaller projects could buy a fraction of one, Naglich said.

Part of each fee collected must be put in an endowment that will pay for long-term care of the land. Once all the credits are sold, the land — and the money — may be turned over to a conservation group for continued management.

Wetland banks are reviewed to meet several federal, state and local criteria and also require a public comment period. The area in question must meet standards for wetland designation and there must be approved plans and financial assurances to create and sustain the wetland. The location also must in an area determined to be need of a wetland bank.

While the goal is preservation, some enhancement work is being done on Long Beach site.

Several dump trucks of trash were removed and the fencing added to prevent future dumping. Cedar trees also have been planted. Naglich said the trees are believed to be native to the area but were likely logged out decades ago. Invasive species, such as blackberry bushes and Scotch broom, must be removed to allow native plants to thrive. And all the work is overseen by state and federal regulators.

In addition to meeting state and federal standards, state Department of Ecology officials also liked that the bank is located south of the Loomis Lake conservation area on the peninsula, which helps augment those conservation measures, according to a state press release.