June 14, 2016
 
Calvin Alvarez
Anchorage Regulatory Division (1145) CEPOA-RD
P.O. Box 6898
JBER, AK 99506-0898
 
Via email to: Calvin.L.Alvarez@usace.army.mil
 
Re:  USACE Proposed Methodology for Wetlands Mitigation
 
Dear Mr. Alvarez:
 
The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. is writing to comment on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) request for comment on the proposed Methodology for Assessing Functional Gains and Losses for Permittee Responsible Compensatory Mitigation and Calculating Compensatory Mitigation Credits and Debits for Third Party Mitigation Providers in the Alaska District.
 
RDC is a statewide business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism and fisheries industries. RDC’s membership includes Alaska Native Corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.
 
Thank you for your work to fix uncertainties with the Wetlands Mitigation program under USACE, however, RDC is very concerned the proposed methodology program is not the right answer. The proposed program actually increases uncertainty for interpretation of the 1994 Alaska Wetlands Initiative - a process agreed to by multiple agencies and still in place - and should be a key element of any future program.
 
RDC urges the USACE to halt this process for the proposed methodology and consult with the State of Alaska, the private sector, including Alaska Native Corporations, and organizations like RDC to develop a program that will work for Alaska and allow for responsible resource and community development projects.
 
In brief, below is our list of preliminary concerns:
 
First, the USACE has the flexibility to not require compensatory mitigation for all wetland impacts where a permittee demonstrates that mitigation is not appropriate or practicable. RDC urges the USACE to explicitly recognize this flexibility in the guidance document. Less than 1% of the wetlands in Alaska have been developed and this was recognized in the 1994 Alaska Wetlands Initiative, which must be considered in evaluating any mitigation requirements.


Brief RDC concerns continued:
 

  • While RDC recognizes that the development of the credit-debit methodology is an important step in promoting consistency in compensatory mitigation, RDC believes this cannot be accomplished without accompanying guidance on acceptable and compatible functional assessment methodologies and, most importantly, guidance on how and when compensatory mitigation is required.
  • The proposed methodology does not acknowledge flexibility in determining the value of credits for permittee responsible mitigation (PRM) projects, particularly those designed to restore or enhance aquatic resources. This has the potential to circumvent the State of Alaska’s resource agencies abilities to work with applicants to enhance habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial species as part of the mitigation process.
  • RDC is very concerned with the increased costs of the program. The proposed program will increase average compensatory mitigation costs per credit by an estimated ten times. The proposed methodology for calculating mitigation ratios could lead to a requirement for purchasing large numbers of credits at substantial cost, especially for larger development projects.
  • The methodology as proposed has the potential to impact the viability of existing mitigation options and new proposals for mitigation banks and in-lieu programs. This could have significant negative implications for current and near-term projects and creates additional regulatory uncertainty for resource development in Alaska.
  • The proposed program does not take in to account that Alaska contains so many identical wetlands. Why is mitigation requested for wetlands that are available across the state in significant quantities?
  • In earlier determinations, the trigger for wetlands mitigation was when “high value” wetlands were impacted. Even today so few high value wetlands in Alaska have been impacted, therefore leading to less need for mitigation.
  • Another major concern of RDC is the further uncertainty this program creates for current and future projects. Without identifying the full context of the program, it is even more difficult for responsible resource development project proponents to determine which direction the program will move.
  • The proposed program does not take in to account that there are few mitigation opportunities in Alaska as the state lacks disturbed wetlands to begin with.
 
In addition to RDC’s concerns, we would like to express support for consideration of the comments submitted by the Alaska Oil & Gas Association and the Alaska Miners Association (June 14, 2016).
 
Thank you for your work to fix uncertainties with the Wetlands Mitigation program. RDC extends an offer to work together and move forward in a positive direction as this program is not the right answer.
 
Sincerely,
Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. 
 
Cc:      Colonel Michael Brooks, USACE Alaska District
            David Hobbie, Regulatory Division Chief
            Sheila Newman, Special Actions Chief, Regulatory Division