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Mitigation is getting more complicated

August 10, 2016   By Jay Hudson in

This snowy egret, perched on a railing at Santee Cooper’s Jefferies Hydroelectric Station, co-exists with human activities at the facility, which includes boating and angling activities. The challenge Santee Cooper and other electric utilities  face is meeting increasingly stringent environmental and regulatory requirements, juxtaposed with the responsibility of providing reliable and affordable electric power to customers.     

Over the years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed an excellent program to protect our wetland habitats. Wetlands are important features within our landscape that provide numerous beneficial functions to fish and wildlife – and people.

Some of these functions include protecting and improving water quality, providing fish and wildlife habitats, storing floodwaters, and maintaining surface-water flow during dry periods.  

The Corps protects wetlands through a well-developed mitigation program. If a potential project will impact wetlands, the Corps will require the project developer to provide mitigation for the impacted wetlands. Simplified, the Corps has a “no-net loss” policy in that additional wetlands must be enhanced or even created to “mitigate” the wetlands that are impacted. It’s a system that has a structure in place and has worked for years.

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a mitigation policy to deal with threatened and endangered species. That policy goes beyond net loss to include enhancement. In the past, any project that had the potential to impact threatened or endangered plants or animals would typically avoid these areas or perhaps relocate the species to another often better habitat. This could all occur while the project moves forward.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s proposed policy will require mitigation before the impacts occur (i.e. before the project can begin). Finding and enhancing habitat for threatened and endangered species is something that most of us, if not all of us, can agree is a tremendously worthy goal, but it also takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. Time and effort translates into money, an expense that Santee Cooper and other utilities bear as “the cost of doing business” in today’s challenging world of environmental regulation.

But to require mitigation prior to beginning a project is, without a doubt, going to hamper projects in the future, thus making mitigation much more complicated, time consuming and expensive.