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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


Executive proposes market-based tool that better protects wetlands while providing regulatory certainty for developers

Summary

Builders would have the option to offset the impacts of their developments to streams and wetlands by paying a fee instead of doing individual mitigation projects, using a market-based approach proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine that is the first of its kind in the state.

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Builders would have the option to offset the impacts of their developments to streams and wetlands by paying a fee instead of doing individual mitigation projects, using a market-based approach proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine that is the first of its kind in the state.

“With this proposal, we couple greater predictability for builders to greater certainty that we will successfully protect and restore streams and wetlands,” said Executive Constantine. “This approach affirms King County’s commitment to innovation and collaboration with regulatory agencies, the environmental community and the development community.”

By law, builders are required to avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands and other aquatic-sensitive areas to the greatest extent practicable – and in the limited cases where unavoidable impacts are allowed to occur, builders are required to mitigate them.

Under proposed legislation the Executive sent today to the King County Council, builders could voluntarily purchase “mitigation credits” to meet their obligations for wetland mitigation. The County in turn would use those payments to design, construct and maintain successful and long-lasting ecological restoration projects that address the needs of the watershed and the environment.

With this proposed market-based tool, the Executive said the County can establish a framework through which the private sector can drive environmental protection through voluntary transactions.

“By pooling mitigation payments, King County can build larger restoration projects with greater benefits to the environmental health of Puget Sound’s watersheds,” said Executive Constantine. “And lands where projects occur will be permanently protected as open space, ensuring a legacy of a healthy environment for future generations.”

The building community says the County’s approach will streamline a particularly time-consuming aspect of the permit process.

“The County is proposing to provide people with additional mitigation options; this is not a new regulatory authority” said Sam Anderson, Executive Director of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. “This new mitigation tool would shift some of the burden of navigating the regulatory process off the private sector and onto King County government. This should streamline the permitting process for builders and facilitate homebuilding in King County in ways that respect the natural environment.”

Quadrant Homes, one of the region’s largest builders, also likes the new approach.

“This proposal offers predictable costs and schedules for the development community to meet requirements that protect our natural environment,” said Bonnie Geers, Vice President of Public Affairs for Quadrant Homes. “This would allow us to focus on what we do best – balancing the construction of great homes with the conservation of lands and protection of the region’s environment.”

Environmental organizations recognize the benefits of the proposed program as well—but for different reasons.

“While the first preference is for projects to do no harm and then to mitigate onsite, we are pleased that King County has proposed this innovative and forward-thinking plan which will address losses of stormwater infiltration,” said Tom Bancroft, Executive Director of People For Puget Sound. “It is important that we maximize water infiltration in replacement projects, as well as create excellent habitat.”

The Executive’s proposed program would be among the first nationwide to operate in compliance with 2008 federal rules for where and how so-called “in-lieu fee mitigation” occurs; it is also consistent with state rules.

Under the proposed program, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would co-chair a regulatory oversight committee to ensure the County meets its obligations under the program.

“In-lieu fees make the solution ready ahead of the need,” said Ted Sturdevant, Director of the state Department of Ecology. “When a particular project cannot avoid damage to wetlands, a mitigation project will be available, and in many cases already under way, pre-designed to maximize the environmental benefits for that watershed. That’s a win for all concerned, and we’re pleased to approve this program.”

"It is great from the Corps' perspective to see King County's in-lieu fee mitigation program approaching completion," said Col. Bruce Estok, Seattle District Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "The Seattle District looks forward to implementing this innovative tool which is consistent with the leadership and high standards of the Puget Sound region. King County’s program is the District’s first and is among the most rigorous to be certified thus far under the 2008 Federal Rules on Compensatory Mitigation."



King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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