Dec. 2, 2005 – Environmental advocates yesterday attacked the State of Massachusetts for largely handing control over a wetland restoration project to a private company that they call an "environmental Enron," taking in ever-greater amounts public and private dollars while trading existing wetlands for future promises that may never be fulfilled.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Golledge and other government officials, a coalition of eleven environmental groups asked the state to stay spending on a year-old project to create a wetland restoration "bank" on the Taunton River Watershed. The group expressed concern that the state was spending too much money and too many resources on wetlands reclamation sites that "may not be appropriate for legal and scientific reasons."
At issue are state-run wetlands mitigation banks, a concept that gives "mitigation credits" that permit the destruction of otherwise protected lands in exchange for present or future promises to restore, enhance, preserve or otherwise improve wetlands elsewhere. Critics argue that mitigation credits provide financial and regulatory cover for development projects that harm vital ecosystems and.
Under federal guidelines, the credits can be exchanged with or sold to other companies. In allowing the credit trading, the coalition said, the state is giving Blue Wave Strategies, a politically connected environmental consulting firm, carte blanche to sell off large parts of the watershed to developers. The state picked Blue Wave to handle many facets of the Taunton River Watershed project, including "credit trading, operations, management, and long-term monitoring," according to the company.
In addition, the firm was handed the job of identifying the proper wetlands banking site, securing permits and other legal licenses and "enabling legislation" to create the bank.
According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a member of the coalition, the companyâ€™s proposal to set up a restoration bank on a site with more than 1600 acres of water, marsh and swampland "is not only contrary to public policy on its face, but its current proposal flies in the face of scientific facts."
"This banking set-up puts money in the pockets of Blue Wave Strategies by making them middlemen in a wetlands shell game," New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett said in a statement. "State regulators may be tempted to buy a supposedly painless solution to developer demands without any regard for the true, long-term costs."
Federal studies show that mitigation banks have produced mixed results. A September Government Accountability Office report found that the "no net-loss" promise of mitigation bank programs across the country is often unrealized, due, in large part, to problems with the Army Corps of Engineers oversight mechanisms.