On a Fayette County tract that generations of farmers painstakingly cleared and drained to grow crops, a team of scientists and natural resource consultants plans to spend the next several years deliberately undoing all that work.
Drainage ditches will be plugged, filled-in areas dug out and earthen terraces constructed to hold water, not get rid of it. On large fields long ago cleared, native trees — 361 per acre — will be planted.
Travel through the Lost Swamp Trail on the Wolf River in this time lapse video that compresses thousands of photos captured every two seconds through the most dense portion of the trail into roughly one minute.
Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal
It’s all part of the proposed Wolf River Mitigation Bank II, a 666-acre site where developers and government agencies can pay to have wetlands restored, preserved or enhanced to mitigate, or compensate, for damage done by construction projects. Buyers purchase credits, which represent units of land on which the work is conducted.
Developers and agencies often need the credits, which are priced according to market conditions, to win approval for Clean Water Act permits authorizing the filling of swamps for highway projects, subdivisions and other types of construction.
Mitigation banks, typically run by limited liability corporations, have been established in many major watersheds across the Mid-South. The way they work could be found in the following example of a project by the Tennessee Department of Transportation:
TDOT is replacing the Tenn. 76 bridge over the Hatchie River in Haywood County, a project that will destroy 1.65 acres of wetlands. To mitigate that damage at the typical 2-to-1 ratio, the department offered to buy 3.3 credits from the Hatchie River Mitigation Bank.
The proposed Wolf River Mitigation Bank II would be located north of Piperton, east of Tenn. 196 along Shaws Creek, a tributary of the Wolf. It’s adjacent to the 769-acre Wolf River Mitigation Bank I, where wetland-restoration work has been conducted for more than a decade.
The first Wolf mitigation bank proved to be “very successful,” said W. Michael Dennis, president of a Florida-based firm that served as lead consultant in developing the bank.
“The area turned out to be restored just like the plans called for.”
TDOT was a major participant. It purchased about 120 credits from the first bank, department spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said in an email. In 2009 alone, TDOT paid nearly $905,000 for 51.07 credits, she said.
The proposed Wolf River Mitigation Bank II would restore swamps to offset damage from projects throughout the Wolf’s watershed in Shelby, Fayette and Hardeman counties, as well as in the Nonconnah Creek watershed.
The objective of the new bank is to create a “mosaic of bottomland hardwood wetland types interspersed with uplands,” the permit application with the Corps of Engineers says.
Through the restoration and enhancement work, a total of 217 credits would be generated for sale. The largest chunk of credits — 124 — would come from the restoration of wetlands on 124 acres of converted crop land that has been farmed since before the Civil War. Additional credits would be generated by extensive reforestation work and the preservation of bottomland hardwoods.
The Corps of Engineers is reviewing the proposed mitigation bank.
Reach Tom Charlier at [email protected] or 901-529-2572 and on Twitter at @thomasrcharlier.
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