HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Wetlands: Another needless cost

Written October 29th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
The police site as seen from Pacific. Navigation? Fisheries?

The police site as seen from Pacific Boulevard. Navigation? Fisheries?

We don’t need any more examples of the costly foolishness that is Oregon’s wetlands policy, but we have one anyway. It is the site where Albany next year will start building its new police headquarters.

The vacant parcel, covered with grasses and weeds, lies in the 2600 block on the west side of Pacific Boulevard S.W., between Schoen’s Motors to the north and various medical offices to the south. Cathey’s Ditch flows along its northern edge. The site measures about 3.9 acres.

This past spring a consultant determined that wetlands covered 1.9 acres of it. The Department of State Lands, however, rejected those findings based on a field investigation that discovered additional markers for hydric — or wetlands — soil. The city engineer overseeing the police project, Staci Belcastro, says a revised wetlands delineation has been done, and now the area designated as wetlands covers 2.9 acres.

State law requires a permit whenever someone wants to “remove or fill material in waters of the state,” the Department of State Lands says. The law (ORS 196.795-990), passed in 1967, was intended to protect public navigation, fisheries and recreational uses of state waters, an eminently sensible goal. But 1967 was well before state and federal regulators started to treat seasonally soggy land, namely wetlands, the same as water.

Under current regulations, the loss of wetlands has to be “mitigated,” usually by paying to create or expand wetlands elsewhere. Albany’s budget for the police station includes $200,000 for wetlands mitigation. This is an expense for which there is no practical justification other than that the rules demand it. This site plays no role at all in watery recreation, and certainly not in navigation or fisheries, so there’s no sensible reason for even a state fill permit, at least not under the 1967 law.

The city of Albany is not going to make waves about nonsensical wetlands requirements because it is used to this abuse of state and federal authority. But sooner or later, somebody should. (hh)



7 responses to “Wetlands: Another needless cost”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Yet another line item on the unending list of government stupidities.

    Although when it comes to ‘wetlands’, there is no better example of stupidity than the cable barrier on portions of I-5 that are built close to the fast lane because the median was classified as a “wetland.”

    Out of state visitors laugh out loud when I mention “wetlands” as the reason for the cable veering from the middle to the shoulder and then back to the middle.

  2. Bobby says:

    Wetlands, even those that aren’t pretty, provide a substantial public benefit that is destroyed when they’re paved over. The destruction by private (or government) interests valuable environmental public goods is a negative externality. Forcing private companies to internalize those otherwise external costs is a valuable function of government. Put simply: polluters should pay. Sorry that it sounds like a wasteful expense, but whether you appreciate it or not, you benefit from clean water and other ecosystem services that nature has provided us–if those destroying it aren’t made to pay for it, then either you go without or someone else (namely taxpayers) have to cover the costs. Mediation of other wetlands is, in most cases, much more affordable and sustainable than constructing water treatment and cooling facilities. So there’s the practical justification you were looking for and the practical reason why the “rules demand it.”

    • James Carrick says:

      Most of your points are well taken IF we’re talking about true wetlands. The problem has become in how the government defines “wetlands.” In the Willamette Valley with its high clay content, once the soil reaches it’s saturation point in the winter, water will “pond” where it can’t run off and is quite different than a true, year-round wetland. In fact, if the soil was sandy and drained well, no such designation would be made on that site, except perhaps in the “creek bed” which skirts the property to the north.

      Your statement “polluters should pay” sounds good on the surface, but merely placing a building on seasonally saturated clay soil is no more “polluting” than exhaling carbon dioxide when we breathe. Would you care to define the “pollution” that will occur by putting this building on that lot?

      The things that will be required through government regulation at this site won’t end with this “wetland” designation, I’m afraid. This is just the first, and perhaps most costly, of many instances where needless regulation drives up the cost of building a new facility. As I said below, well intentioned ideas in government take on a life of their own and administrative rulings become “law” without a vote by a legislative body, and so this monster just grows…..and this is a GREAT example of just that phenomenon.

      And again, the city created a very large engineered wetland when it built Talking Waters with it’s partners and again, shouldn’t that give the city a “wetland credit” usable for whatever mitigation the government (Department of State Lands) will require? Or is this just a “one way street”?

      “Practical justification”? How about a practical definition of what the government considers a true wetland instead? That would be a better place to start, and far easier than defending their obtuse definition as it currently reads.

  3. James Carrick says:

    The $200k budgeted for wetlands mitigation is an example of regulatory costs that just kill our economy generally, and are good in many cases only to employ more government workers and consulting firms, adding little or nothing of value as in this case.

    In 1970, my father was the general contractor for the construction of the first (original) 3 medical office bldgs next to the new police station site, known then as Professional Plaza. The job started in June of the summer before entering my sophomore year at West Albany High and my dad employed me during the summer months. Because I drove a large portion of the 2×2 stakes for the foundation forms of those 3 buildings with a 16 lb. sledge, I can tell you first hand that clay soil is HARD and dry as “the hubs of hell” in the summer. Wetlands?

    As is typical, the government often takes a sound idea, then expands it far out of reason. This is one example. I must ask, how much “wetland currency” did we gain from the Talking Waters project? Couldn’t that count toward “mitigation?”

  4. Greg B says:

    Ya know, it is sad to say we have got used to this abuse of power by environmentalists. (It gives them a job) The whole Willamette Valley could be considered a wetland by current regulations. And, that is a sad situation. I have considerable experience building and maintaining power lines in the valley. I’ll just say that it costs taxpayers and rate payers a whole lot of money because of wetland regulations for naught.

  5. Warren Beeson says:

    Years ago, when I was manager of the Benton County Fairgrounds in Corvallis, we were required to do a “wetlands determination” on the fairgrounds property. One “determination” was that the 10 acre gravel parking lot of 30 years was a “wetlands”. Covered with gravel, compacted with years of use by everything from carnival rides to heavy equipment, and innumerable autos attending events; this clay soil was deemed a wetlands based on the soil type. Needless to say this posed expensive mitigation measures for any future alternative uses of the area. This type of nonsense is what many of us find insufferable about government – in particular the federal government with its never-ending attempts to regulate every aspect of our lives because “they know best”. Bah! (nice euphemism). Of course they always use grand-sounding names to conceal the real goals. So how about a name change of the “Endangered Species Act” to “the “Stop Evolution at 1978 (or whatever year this lunacy was passed) Act”?

  6. Richard Vannice says:

    Another example of the idiocy of “WETLANDS” is a piece of property known to me that had considerable fill done on it before the city did their wetlands survey in N. Albany a few years back. Mysteriously the “wetlands” found by the city follow a straight line east and west and then north and south alongside the property line where the fill was done.
    Adjacent property has wetlands delineated in a curving pattern. Makes you wonder.

 

 
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