A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Police wetlands: A useless expense

Written June 5th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
The Albany police station site off Pacific the way it looked last October.

The Albany police station site off Pacific the way it looked last October.

Albany taxpayers are about to pay the city of Eugene $164,307 for the restoration of wetlands there. Why? Because of state and federal rules that make no practical sense at all.

You may recall that Albany is about to start building a new police headquarters on 3.9 acres of vacant land on Pacific Boulevard, and that the Oregon Department of State Lands last year determined that more than half the site consists of wetlands.

Before construction can start, the city needs a wetland permit from the state and the Army Corps of Engineers. To get the permit, Albany must buy “credits” in a wetlands bank. This means the city must make up the loss of wetlands on the Albany site by contributing to new or improved wetlands somewhere else.

Since 2006, the Eugene parks department has been working to turn a 240-acre grass seed field in the Coyote Creek drainage west of Eugene into a proper wetland, and it has a “wetlands mitigation bank,” the Coyote Prairie North Wetland Mitigation Bank, that can sell “credits” in that project to developers up and down the Willamette Valley.

Now, the Albany City Council on Wednesday will approve — because it has no choice — sending Eugene $164,307. That’s the price of credits covering 2.86 acres of alleged wetlands that will be lost on the police site. The money comes from the police project fund, for which Albany voters approved an $18 million bond issue that will be paid off from property taxes.

True wetlands are an important part of nature and worth preserving. They store water and reduce wintertime flooding. They harbor all kinds of specialized plants and provide a home to wildlife from salamanders to birds. But those benefits are tied to the particular place. If a wetland is useful in storing runoff, that benefit is lost when the site is paved over. And what good does it do that place to recreate a wetland 40 miles away?

The wetland expense in this case is a small fraction of the cost of building a new police station. But it is still an expense for which Albany taxpayers will be billed for the life of the bonds even though it does them no good at all. (hh)

14 responses to “Police wetlands: A useless expense”

  1. Tony White says:

    Just another example of the kind of stupid EPA regulations we need to abolish… along with the EPA itself. The Department of the Interior can handle what needs to be done quite nicely.

  2. Bob Woods says:

    The most restrictive solution is to prohibit development on any wetland.Only that drove most people nuts with the implications to private property rights. So a compromise was worked out: No net loss of wetlands overall, as long as a compromised wetland is replaced somewhere.

    That’s what happens with compromise. No perfect solution, but better than no solution at all. It’s what the founders envisioned in starting this country. Work things out. Find a compromise you both can live with. Move on.

  3. Richard Vannice says:

    It is my understanding that soil type is one of the considerations when designating “wetlands”. If this is true how can you go to an area that is a different soil type and make it “wetlands”? There are a number of other factors that are also used in determining the “wetlands” designation.
    I am familiar with one site that was filled before the City of Albany did a “wetlands” survey. This property was raised nearly 24 inches above abutting property. The “wetlands” designation on the adjoining property runs in a rather random manner until reaching the property line where it magically runs in a straight line.

  4. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Economically speaking, having the flexibility to allocate resources like wetlands is a good thing.

    But will the artificial wetland created by government in Eugene be better than the natural wetland destroyed by government in Albany?

    Environmentally speaking, this sounds like a horrible idea to me.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      These are government-owned properties, so I suspect few people care about this decision.

      But if private property and a government ‘taking’ was involved, I suspect more individuals would feel threatened.

      Protecting private property rights is a principal purpose of every level of government. Preventing pollutants from moving across bodies of water does not necessarily violate property rights.

      But when a government arbitrarily limits an owner’s use of private property without fair compensation, government overreach is the result.

  5. Floyd Collins says:

    I disagree with Bob, not the first time however. The founding Fathers never thought about “no net loss”! Had they, many of the Cities in the East and South would not have been developed. Think New Orleans. Nor would the settlers been able to develop farm lands as they moved West. Preservations of Wetlands interior to Urban Growth Boundries is in direct conflict with other Goals of Oregon’s Land Use Planning agenda. State and Federal regulators must come to grips with competing objectives. Not every one them can be viewed in isolation. How about some common sense instead of blindly following a rule that has many unintended consequences?

  6. hj.anony1 says:

    Yes, the lost art of compromise. It is a wonder anything gets done with some many hardliner, “just say NO to everything” folks out there. Both locally and nationally!

    Looking at the bright side, at least this “useless expense” is staying in the state.

    With our state’s economy humming along, we may get a chance for some “credits” in return. Wondering if there are any wetland targets in our area? Possibly the interwebs has a map? Better yet, maybe the answer man knows!

  7. Michelle Tatum says:

    This is such BS- The Albany PD doesn’t need another dept. the old building isn’t that old. We ( tax payers ) voted no more than once than they added themselves to the FD. and it was passed. Look how long the State Police have had their building. I call Bull SH** on the APB.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Let’s cling to the facts, shall we? Voters turned down a fire-police building bond issue once, not more than once, then approved a smaller bond issue for the same combined project. The police building was built in the 1980s for a department about half the size of the current one. (hh)

  8. George Pugh says:

    The rules on agriculture and wetlands are similar to the urban rules. The Oregon Department of State Lands regulates what we can do as far as cut and fill i.e. moving quantities of dirt around. We are also subject to the USDA 1985 “Swamp Buster” rules as modified. The NRCS is charged with enforcing infractions of those rules. I have been found guilty of breaking those rules, in spite of acting on misinformation from another branch of the USDA, and as a result the USDA’s carrot and stick programs are no longer available to our farm and we had to return about $10,000 we had received from the programs the two and one half years our case was being appealed.
    I bear the NRCS no ill will as they must enforce the rules put before them, but I would still contest whether our actions, putting drainage tile in a field that had been farmed from fence to fence and ditched for the last 50 years, destroyed any useful function. In fact, I think we made an environmental improvement. That is, before the tile the excess water ran off the surface of the field carrying soil and fertilizer with it instead of filtering through the profile of the soil, as it does now, to enter a roadside ditch as clean water.
    That being said, my options were to break up the tile lines or mitigate on another property by either turning a non-wetland into wetland on an acre for acre basis or improving (and removing from farming) another property on a basis of two for one acres.

    I had previously looked in to developing a property as a wetlands mitigation bank but I was discouraged with the impression that the DSL was trying to limit the number of available mitigation acres to maintain the profitability of the banks. Also, I was under the impression that they wanted the mitigation to take place as close to the damage as feasible so I am surprised that the nearest bank is a municipal sponsored one near Eugene.

  9. Bill Kapaun says:

    Has anybody considered how “wetlands” are mosquito breeding areas?
    With all the new mosquito borne viruses, we may be frantically trying to drain them in future years.

  10. Jim Engel says:

    “What.. Me leave a reply?” …would say Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine. Well, to the above finger workouts expressing opinions, conjectures, postulating, exasperation’s, and what not I’d say..”We still have the unrestrained freedom to do so..”. And to thank HH for providing a forum to toss verbiage at one another!.. JE

  11. Brian Holman says:

    I’m not well versed in the regulations of wetlands or what criteria is required to create such a designated area. So that’s why I have no idea of why this piece of ground is designated this way. I grew up a few short blocks away, and in the 60’s and 70’s, this whole area that are now homes and offices was just a big hay field! I walked from our house through this field to go to the YMCA, and I don’t recall any wet pieces of ground or flocks of birds hovering and clamoring for their squatter rights! What an unbelievable state of affairs.

  12. George Pugh says:

    In an agricultural setting, three elements must be determined to be present to identify wetlands:
    1. hydric soil types – from a list of soil types that are frequently in wetland settings
    2. Evidence of water ponding – iron staining (reddish streaks in the near surface soils is the indicator
    3. species of plants that are known to inhabit wetlands – the NRCS has software that tells them that wetland species WERE probably present in that area historically.

    If you really want to have fun, get into a discussion with the pertinent agencies over what is a stream, a seasonal stream or a ditch,


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