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“Mitigation Banking” — a Threat to NYC’s Remaining Wetlands

Sierra Club activists across the country have been fighting against an insidious threat to the environment: the concept of “mitigation banking.”  Now it’s come to New York City.

Mitigation Banking — a Real Estate Shell Game

The idea of “mitigation banking” is that real estate developers, oil and gas interests, or other applicants will be allowed to impair or destroy existing, naturally occurring open water, wetland or other habitats, as long as someone promises to create or restore at least as many acres of engineered “wetlands” elsewhere.  It’s nothing but a shell game to facilitate illegal, environmentally destructive in‑water development in irreplaceable waterways and wetlands.

New York City, through its Economic Development Corporation (EDC), under former Mayor Bloomberg, asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve the first‑ever compensatory mitigation bank for NYC.  This proposal would allow existing, naturally occurring Hudson and East River and other coastal and wetland habitats to be misused for misplaced in-water projects in and around NYC.  One of the proffered excuse was that there would be an initial pilot “restoration” of a wetland on City‑owned property.

Sierra Club Opposes NYC Plan

The Sierra Club, Atlantic Chapter sent a comment letter to the Army Corps (here) opposing this plan.  The Club stated its general policy: “Compensatory mitigation is not an acceptable alternative to eliminating or minimizing avoidable damage to aquatic resources.”  Such unnecessary damage or destruction, we argued, is not excused by “‘mitigation banking’ schemes that could then facilitate development elsewhere — development that, because of its adverse environmental impacts, would otherwise not receive the necessary approvals.”

The Sierra Club’s long-standing position has only become stronger with the incorporation of more recent scientific knowledge: “In‑water and near-shore development has become even more  ill‑advised in light of the growing global climate crisis. Coastal areas face effects that include rising sea level and more powerful storms, with consequent flooding, storm surges, etc. Development in these vulnerable areas should not be promoted by misguided public policies. All too often, however, that is what has happened, with the push for development in the critical habitat in the lower Hudson River now being expanded to the East River and other coastal waters.”

What you can do

Mayor Bill de Blasio has reappointed the head of EDC, the mayoral authority that has supported the drive to use disaster relief and other funds to build habitat‑destroying development sites in catastrophe‑prone waters.  Please write to Mayor de Blasio, City Hall, New York, NY 10007 and urge him to stop subsidizing development in the Hudson River and other waters, and to cancel EDC plans to use fraudulent “mitigation banking” schemes to make end‑runs around the environmental laws that protect aquatic resources, in order to facilitate costly development in the wrong places.

 

Jim Lane is a lawyer and the Secretary of the Atlantic (New York state) Chapter and the NYC Group of the Sierra Club.

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