On May 20, Mayor Bloomberg announced a new wetlands strategy for New York City, building on the PlaNYC’s goals of improving water quality, increasing opportunities for recreation along waterways and waterfronts, and restoring natural environments along coastal areas.
The New York City Wetlands Strategy (“Wetlands Strategy”) had originally contemplated creating a local ordinance and establishing an enforcement regime on the local level to protect vulnerable wetlands from development and fill. However, given the relatively small amount of privately-owned wetlands in the City and the significant cost of establishing such a regulatory scheme, the City instead opted to pursue other avenues to protect wetlands.
Notable among the City’s initiatives is the plan to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revise state and federal mitigation guidance to take into account unique circumstances associated with New York City wetlands. The goal of these revisions will be to increase transparency for mitigation policies and provide guidance specific to New York City, where on-site mitigation is often not feasible. For example, the Wetlands Strategy suggests creative mitigation approaches suited to the City’s geography, such as debris removal and hazardous material remediation.
In tandem with proposed revisions to mitigation guidance, the Wetlands Strategy includes a proposal for a banking or “in-lieu of” fee mechanism to increase the flexibility of mitigation required for public projects. The in-lieu of fee system would allow permit applicants to designate an approved third party to undertake a mitigation project. In a banking system, credits are created where a public or private entity restores, enhances or preserves natural resources with the oversight of an inter-agency review team. These mitigation credits may then be used for projects within a given region or service area.
The Wetlands Strategy also includes initiatives to improve wetlands mapping and monitoring to determine the current extent of NYC wetlands and the potential and ongoing impact of sea level rise on these resources.