Seagrass Mitigation Banks and the Governor's Veto
Posted: 31 Oct 2011
Date Written: August 20, 2008
On June 30, 2008, Governor Charlie Crist vetoed a bill enacted by the 110th Florida Legislature that called for the establishment of seagrass mitigation banks on sovereign submerged lands. Mitigation banking is a method by which third parties can become involved in curtailing the negative environmental effects of commercial and residential development. As a prerequisite to dredging or filling in Florida’s marine habitats, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires prospective developers to enact a mitigation plan to compensate for the loss of functional seagrass within the construction site. Currently, the only option for a developer that cannot avoid impacting healthy seagrass beds is to do the mitigation itself — a method referred to as permittee-responsible mitigation. Mitigation banks provide an alternative option. This Article argues that seagrass mitigation banks should not only be allowed on sovereign submerged lands, but encouraged. Because permittee-responsible mitigation is done on seagrass beds adjacent to the construction site, it can leave the habitat badly fragmented and unable to provide discernable ecosystem services. A mitigation bank, which protects large parcels away from any development, can provide healthy, intact seagrass beds that can provide optimal ecosystem services. Furthermore, the state of seagrass restoration is relatively new, and seagrasses can be difficult to replace. Therefore, mitigation plans implemented by developers — often done in haste due to time-sensitive projects — result in the accidental destruction of important seagrass species, and are costly for developers. These dangers are ameliorated when a developer purchases credits from a mitigation bank, which has already completed the restoration in a safe and efficient manner. The CWAs compensatory mitigation program is designed to allow for socially beneficial uses of sovereign submerged lands while simultaneously protecting valuable seagrass beds. Because mitigation banks provide a better balance between these seemingly conflicting goals than permittee-responsible mitigation, Governor Crist should have encouraged their implementation rather than veto the bill.
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