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A primary component of the City's mitigation program will be a Mitigation Bank. The City conducted extensive analysis to determine how best to provide ecologically appropriate and functional mitigation for impacts anticipated to occur over the next 10 years.
As a result, the proposed Mitigation Bank includes:
Opening a Mitigation Bank requires agency review and approval. Review and approval is a multi-step process that typically requires three to five years to complete. Based on our submittal date of April 2, 2018, the City's goal is to open the Bank for credit sales in 2022.
Status update: The City submitted a Mitigation Bank prospectus to the regulatory agencies for review on April 2, 2018. In June 2018 the City issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to hire a consultant to complete the Mitigation Banking Instrument (MBI) and associated permitting.
Traditionally, a project with unavoidable wetland, stream, or habitat impacts is responsible for completing their own mitigation activities. This is often referred to as "permittee-responsible" mitigation. Unfortunately, permittee-responsible mitigation sometimes results in high costs, high rates of failure, and inefficient land use. A mitigation bank is an alternative approach that offers Bellingham the opportunity to complete mitigation in a way that better reflects community values. In addition, federal and state agencies now prefer the use of mitigation banks.
The City's proposed mitigation bank builds on previous foundational efforts. In 2012, the City completed a review of mitigation program feasibility. The resulting City of Bellingham Mitigation Program Review and Recommendations report (Northwest Ecological Services LLC) recommended implementing an in-lieu fee program. Subsequently, the City worked with a team of consultants to complete the science-based 2015 Habitat Restoration Technical Assessment (Environmental Science Associates, Northwest Ecological Services, LLC; and Veda Environmental). This document identified and analyzed the City's existing habitat conditions and future restoration opportunities in preparation for pursuing an in-lieu fee program or mitigation bank. In 2016, the City contracted with Water & Land Natural Resource Consulting, LLC to complete ecological and economic analyses, confirm the appropriate mitigation program type, and prepare a mitigation program prospectus for agency submittal. As a result of this work, the City decided to pursue a mitigation bank rather than an in-lieu fee program.
Why Do We Need Mitigation?
The term “mitigation" means to lessen the severity of an action. When a development project proposes impacts to wetlands, streams, and habitat areas; agencies require the project “mitigates" these impacts. Mitigation is done by avoiding, minimizing, and compensating for the impact.
Mitigating impacts is important because wetlands, streams, and habitat areas are central to wise land use. These resources are shared assets that benefit the community as a whole. They provide valuable functions for our community including flood control, ground water recharge, water quality improvements, erosion control, recreation, education, and habitat for commercially important species.
The desire and need to protect Bellingham's ecological assets such as wetlands, streams, and habitat areas is reflected in numerous policies and regulations including Bellingham's Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), Shoreline Master Program (SMP), Comprehensive Plan, and the City Council 2009 Legacies and Strategic Commitments. These values are supported in federal and state laws including the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the state Growth Management Act (GMA), the state Shoreline Management Act (SMA), the State Hydraulic Code (Hydraulic Code), state Water Pollution Control Act, and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
How Do You Use a Mitigation Bank?
As with traditional mitigation, a project proponent must first demonstrate they have avoided and minimized wetland and stream impacts to the maximum extent practicable according to a series of steps called “mitigation sequencing."
These steps are defined in the SEPA implementing rules both Chapter 197-11-768 Washington Administrative Code (WAC) and City of Bellingham Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC) 16.55.250.
- Avoiding the impact altogether by not taking a certain action or parts of an action
- Minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation, by using appropriate technology, or by taking affirmative steps to avoid or reduce impacts
- Rectifying the impact by repairing, rehabilitating, or restoring the affected environment
- Reducing or eliminating the impact over time by preservation and maintenance operations during the life of the action
- Compensating for the impact by replacing, enhancing, or providing substitute resources or environments
- Monitoring the impact and taking appropriate corrective measures
After completing steps 1 through 4, if a project still has unavoidable impacts the project proponent must provide mitigation. If the project is in a bank “service area" with available credits, the project proponent can potentially buy bank credits to fulfill their mitigation obligations.
Regional and National Use
Mitigation programs, especially mitigation banks, have been widely used throughout the Midwestern and Eastern United States. Although mitigation programs are relatively new in Washington State, there are several examples of each in the Puget Sound region.
There are over 1,000 approved banks in the United States. As of summer 2018, the Washington State Department of Ecology lists 17 state/federally approved and four pending mitigation banks in Washington State. Only one bank is approved for use in Whatcom County: the Lummi Nation Wetland and Habitat Mitigation Bank. Two banks are approved for use in Skagit County: Nookachamps Wetland Mitigation Bank and the Skagit Environmental Bank.
In-Lieu Fee (ILF) Programs
There are less than 100 approved ILF programs in the United States. As of summer 2018, the Washington State Department of Ecology lists three state/federally approved ILF programs in Washington State. The King County Mitigation Credit Program was approved in 2012 and was the first ILF program approved in Washington State under the 2008 Federal Rule. King County's program is being used as a template for future programs.