By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – After five years in the making, the end of the wetland mitigation bank project in Suamico could happen in the next year.
Like carbon credits, a wetland mitigation bank offers credits for developers who disturb wetlands.
“For example, let’s say there is a developer,they want to build a new location and it’s going to disturb current wetlands,” said Village Administrator Alex Kaker. “They’re required by the state either to create new a wetland somewhere else, or they can purchase credits from a wetland mitigation bank.”
Since 2014, Suamico has been working on creating a bank at the corner of Norfield Road and Lakeview Drive.
Kaker said the reason for the long timeframe is because of the parties involved.
Suamico is working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“That’s why you don’t see a lot of banks out there, because it is a lot of work and it is time-consuming,” Kaker said.
The bank is projected to be approximately 90 acres and includes land owned by the village and two private parties.
“On this property used to be natural wetlands in the 1800s,” Kaker said. “Since then it’s been farmed, so that wetland has been removed and we’re reestablishing that wetland area.”
Senate Bill 169, now Wisconsin Act 59, was signed by Gov. Tony Evers Monday, Nov. 25.
The legislation changes how wetland mitigation banks are created and used in Wisconsin.
“The idea is to have the activity in that watershed and not in a neighboring watershed or down state,” said State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), who co-introduced the bill. “The hope is we create a number of these around the state and the monies that were being held by the DNR should go out more readily for facilitating these banks.”
Kaker said the major change is requiring developers to purchase from banks in the region where they are developing.
If there is nothing available, they would have to purchase from the next closest bank.
Wisconsin is currently home to 16 wetland mitigation banks, but when completed in Suamico, the bank would be the first in the Lake Michigan Basin.
That means any development in eastern Wisconsin which disrupts wetlands is required by law to purchase credits from Suamico.
“There is not one in our basin and that’s beneficial to us, because if there is somebody who wants to develop in our basin, we would be the only option for them,” Kaker said. “We’ve noticed there is a market, or lack of a market, for us to take advantage of.”
Money to be made, buildings to be built
Any proceeds from the sale of credits would go to the village, with the private landowners receiving a share as well.
“A conservative estimate for us is we are looking at potentially making $2 million on the project that we can use to fund other projects in the village,” Kaker said.
He said credits could be sold for anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000 a piece.
But it’s not that simple, because it could take 10-15 years for all the credits in the wetland mitigation bank to be released.
Of the approximately 90 acres, Kaker said the application’s goal is 63 total credits.
This is because there are many different types of wetlands included in the bank and some types are worth more credits than others.
Once the application is approved, 20 percent of the credits would be released, Kaker said. Another 65 percent could be released when construction is completed, which Kaker hopes is by the end of next October.
“There’s going to be a lot of planting of trees and shrubs,” he said. “We will reinforce a stream bank. For all the drainage ditches, we will be filling those and compacting them.”
The remaining credits would be released at the end of the monitoring period, which could last up to 15 years, to make sure the wetlands are being properly maintained.
When completed, Suamico will have a new revenue stream that helps foster development in the region.
“We know there is a demand out there for credits and we all know that budgets across the State of Wisconsin are tight,” Kaker said. “We’ve been looking for strategic ways to increase funding and this is another way to do it.”
Scott Manley, executive vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, called a new wetland mitigation bank a “win-win for the economy and the environment.”
“From our perspective, it means we just increased our opportunity to do economic development in the region,” Manley said. “Oftentimes when somebody is looking at expanding the footprint of their existing business, or even looking to start a new business, or a new neighborhood for example, dealing with wetlands is often a very difficult hurdle to overcome.”
Andy Selner, president of the Brown County Home Builders Association and owner of Alair Homes, said the mitigation bank is a positive for his industry, because sometimes a soil type is enough to designate land as wetlands.
“It can definitely help development, because we obviously from the home building industry, we want to do what’s best for the industry and our clients,” Selner said. “Consumers out there, they want to build in these wooded areas where we sometimes run into these issues of having a small, little chunk of wetland in the area, that can really hinder the development.”
Kaker said not only will the wetland mitigation bank grow commercial and residential development, it will grow village funds.
“It’s great for us because it’s going to preserve wetlands and keep our rural character, but it will allow development in other areas that make sense.”