Costco to Fill Wetlands if Permit Obtained

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016, 4:00 pm
Paige Filice

This article was originally published on October 12, but we are reprinting it today because we have learned the public hearing for this permit will happen tomorrow, Thursday, November 3, at 7 p.m. in Courtroom #1 at East Lansing's City Hall. It is open to the public and members of the public will have an opportunity to speak.

If a Costco store is built as proposed in East Lansing, where Park Lake Road meets Saginaw Highway, over two acres of regulated wetlands will be filled in. Before that can happen, the developer will have to get permission from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), a process that will include opportunity for public comment.

Wetlands are ecosystems that affect both the environment and the human communities in which they are found. They act as natural sponges, trapping and slowing the release of water and filtering out pollutants. Commonly referred to as “mother nature’s kidneys,” their impact is significant, which is why government regulates development which fills, dredges, drains or maintains a use in regulated wetlands.

According to Carol Valor from the DEQ Water Resources Division, “The Costco development will include the filling of 2.39 acres of wetlands with 14,827 cubic yards of fill, excavation and relocation of a Wolverine gas pipeline.” The Costco application was received at DEQ on August 3 and is “on-hold pending further clarifications of the feasible and prudent alternatives” according to Valor, who is overseeing the application review and permitting. 

While not all wetlands are regulated under the Federal Clean Water Act, the 7.54 acres found on the Costco property on Park Lake Road are, and so filling the 2.39 acres of wetland will require a permit. Michigan and New Jersey are the two states that have the delegated authority to administer the Federal Clean Water Act so that in most cases those doing development in Michigan only need to acquire the wetland permit through the State’s DEQ. (The rest of our 48 states go through both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the federal permit and separately for the state permit.) In eight different situations, permit applications must be co-reviewed by EPA and Michigan, as is the case with Costco where more than one acre of fill is proposed in a regulated wetland. 

According to Valor, in cases such as this, “In general, the applicant must first show feasible and prudent alternatives do not exist then show avoidance of wetland resources to the greatest extent possible and minimization of unavoidable wetland impacts. If the project is permitted, then wetland mitigation is required which includes the replacement of the lost 2.39 acres of scrub-shrub wetland resources with 3.59 acres of mitigation bank credits or on site construction of new wetland.”

“Mitigation bank credits” for wetlands occur when a developer preserves, enhances, restores, or creates wetlands to make up for wetlands that are destroyed in the process of development. Valor explains that “The ratio of acres of wetland mitigation depends on the types of wetlands that are lost.” For forested wetland, every acre filled must be replaced with two acres. For “rare or imperiled” wetlands, every acre filled must be replaced with five acres. For “scrub-shrub or emergent” wetlands, as at the planned Costco site, every acre filled must be replaced with 1.5 acres; that’s why this project would require replacement of 2.39 acres with 3.59 acres of wetlands.

“Costco has yet to provide DEQ with their final plan for wetland mitigation, which is common at this point in the permitting process,” Valor told ELi. The company is currently proposing on-site mitigation on the same 18 acres they are considering donating to the City of East Lansing for open land preservation.

Since the State requires a conservation easement over wetland mitigation sites, this proposal still needs work, because the State would not accept dual easements (to the City and the State). As noted above, Costco may also “bank” wetlands by “replacing” the lost wetlands with the purchase of eligible land and dedication of that land as preserved wetlands.

When it is time for public comment on this matter, the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as well as adjacent property owners, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and local governments will receive a copy of the Public Notice. The DNR and USFWS will specifically be determining if there are adverse impacts to fish and wildlife in the region.

Decisions on wetland permit applications are based on criteria outlined in Michigan law. Criteria include, but are not limited to, size of wetland being impacted, economic value both public and private of the proposed land change, and the activity being primarily dependent upon being located in the wetland. The applicant must demonstrate that feasible and prudent alternatives do not exist.  

The DEQ “reviews and considers all public comments prior to making a permit decision as they relate to the state’s scope of jurisdiction over our protected natural resources,” stated Valor, and per the law, “the DEQ must either approve a permit, approve with modifications or deny the application.” The state’s permit decision is due January 18, 2017.

When the public comment period is opened, the public will be able to view the Pubic Notice and the entire contents of the application and provide comments via the DEQ permitting website or by attending the Public Hearing. Written and verbal statements can be made during the Public Hearing and may be submitted up to 10 days after the hearing date. Mailed comments may be sent to DEQ WRD Lansing District Office, attention Carol Valor, 525 West Allegan P. O. Box 30242 Lansing Michigan 48909.


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