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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 1, 2005
8:25 AM

CONTACT: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Chas Offutt (202) 265-7337

 
New Wetlands Bank is Full of Holes
Taunton River Mitigation Scheme Faces Array of Unanswered Questions
 

BOSTON - December 1 - A plan by a private company to sell mitigation credits that entitle developers to destroy natural wetlands in the Taunton River Watershed will likely result in a net loss of wetlands, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER is one of eleven national, state and local environmental groups who are asking the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to hold off spending taxpayer dollars on the banking scheme until a number of legal and biological questions have been answered.

The mitigation credit bank allows developers to buy the right to fill in naturally functioning wetlands by purchasing the promise of the creation or restoration of wetlands elsewhere. This proposed wetlands trading market is being pushed by a company called Blue Wave Strategies.

“This wetlands mitigation banking scheme works like an environmental Enron, where the true losses do not become evident until it is too late,” stated Kyla Bennett, the New England Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “The scheme put forward by Blue Wave Strategies is not only contrary to public policy on its face, but its current proposal flies in the face of scientific facts.”

Massachusetts has already lost an estimated one-third of all its historic wetlands. To counter continuing losses, state wetlands protection laws have become among the strictest in the nation. PEER contends that wetlands banking could completely circumvent protections for the remaining marshes, vernal pools and forested wetlands. Concerns about the mitigation bank include:

  • The lack of an enforcement mechanism to make sure that promised mitigation is in fact done and the lack of any accountability or consequences for developers who skip out on their obligations;

  • Absence of any assurance of true biological equivalence for the loss of a natural wetland; and

  • Inability to address a number of legal hurdles against offering mitigation in an entirely different watershed from where the construction damage occurs.

Blue Wave Strategies is headed by a former state and federal official named John DeVillars who has been peddling conversion of toxic Superfund sites for private use since he left government. The company wants to convert areas near the Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Massachusetts into a site for wetlands mitigation, but the area already contains over 1600 acres of open water, marsh, and Atlantic White Cedar and red maple swamps. Moreover, other regulatory agencies have expressed an interest in pursuing restoration in the area, without the use of any mitigation bank credits.

On a national level, wetlands mitigation banking has been a dismal failure, according to a series of official reviews. Most recently, the Government Accountability Office issued a blistering report faulting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its failure to oversee whether mitigation that was made a condition of permits issued to dredge or fill wetlands ever actually occurred.

“This banking set-up puts money in the pockets of Blue Wave Strategies by making them middlemen in an wetlands shell game,” added Bennett. “State regulators may be tempted to buy a supposedly painless solution to developer demands without any regard for the true, long-term costs.”

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