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Wetlands: Essential Steps for Your Next Project

Navigating development in key markets amidst economic challenges and increasing competition in the self-storage industry can be demanding. One potential deal-breaker that often deters developers is the presence or potential of jurisdictional wetlands and surface waters. While the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) can assist in evaluating wetland presence, it is not foolproof, necessitating on-site due diligence. This article explores steps to consider for projects involving wetlands.

Defining Wetlands

You may have conducted remote due diligence using the National Wetlands Inventory, but on-site inspections are crucial. If you observe large areas of water or saturated soil with vegetation despite a clean record on the wetland’s mapper, further investigation is necessary. Wetlands contain three distinct characteristics that exhibit: 1. Hydrology: Presence of water throughout the year or specific seasons. 2. Vegetation: Evidence of plant species adapted to saturated conditions. 3. Hydric Soils: Soil permanently or seasonally saturated, leading to anaerobic conditions. *Wetland characteristics may not be always obvious or easily observable If wetlands are suspected or you would like the assurance of no wetlands, engage a local environmental consultant for accurate identifying and documentation. The consultant will refer to the guidelines provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published in the 1987 Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual and 2010 Regional Supplements.

Wetland Delineation

Wetlands fall under the regulation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA, governed by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (Colorado Wetland Information Center). Section 404 requires that anyone interested in placing dredged or fill material into “waters of the United States, including wetlands” must first obtain a permit from the Corps. (US Army Corps of Engineers). Certain states like Florida may also have state-level wetland permitting requirements regulated by local agencies. An environmental consultant will need to conduct a wetland delineation and document findings for the permitting process. The wetland boundaries must be accurately located by a third-party surveyor aiding the engineering team in designing the site layout plan. Wetland setbacks and specific seasonal considerations may apply, requiring expertise from local civil engineers and environmental consultants.

The Permitting

Process Not all projects follow the same permitting process, necessitating pre-application meetings with local municipalities. It is advised to engage in these discussions early during the due diligence phase after hiring an environmental consultant to identify and delineate wetlands for the proposed development. The municipality may direct you to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Section 404 permitting, extending the review period. Wetland mitigation involving the purchasing of wetland mitigation bank credits or potential improvement of wetland buffer zones could be required, adding a financial aspect to the process. Areas involving coastal wetland areas will carry much higher mitigation bank credit fees.

Construction Considerations

Before construction begins, remaining wetland boundaries, buffer zones and limits of disturbance must be staked and marked, adhering to permits. On-site posting of Section 404 permits and certain additional SWPPP measures will need to be considered to ensure construction activities will not have a further negative effect on the wetland areas to be preserved. Employing a third-party SWPPP inspector can help avoid fines resulting from stormwater disturbances.

Key Takeaways

Developing in or near wetlands demands awareness of potential challenges throughout the permitting process. Factoring in longer permit approval timelines and additional financial measures while initiating discussions with local subject matter experts early in the process will ensure a conservative approach to your next development involving wetlands.

Sources:

Sources:
1.) “What Are Wetlands?” Colorado Wetland Information Center, cnhp.colostate.edu/cwic/about-cwic/wetlands/#:~:text=To%20meet%20the%20federal%20regulatory,and%20(3)%20hydric%20soils. Accessed 7 Jan. 2024.
2.) “Recognizing Wetlands.” US Army Corps of Engineers, US Army Corps of Engineers, 1998,
www.nae.usace.army.mil/Portals/74/docs/regulatory/Forms/Recognizing_Wetlands.pdf.