Biological and abiotic data is being collected to characterize the proposed Bank site and to inform construction design based on our goals and objectives. Data that has been collected to date and/or is in progress includes wetland delineation and functional assessment, fish presence (direct observation, underwater video monitoring station), wildlife surveys (wildlife cameras and opportunistic sightings as well as focused bird, herpetile, and invertebrate surveys) vegetation typing (native and non-native/invasive presence, rare plant surveys, plant community mapping, seed bank viability), hydrological investigations, topographic and bathymetric surveys, accretion and sediment transport surveys, water temperature monitoring, fixed photopoint monitoring, cultural resource surveys, and any others required by the Interagency Review Team (IRT).
On 24 November 2014, a pre-prospectus meeting and site visit was held with representatives from local, state, and federal agencies and Tribes to initiate Bank development. During that meeting, we shared information pertaining to land use history and impacts, natural resources and existing conditions data collection, proposed bank types and credit areas, and conceptual mitigation actions. U.S. Armay Corps of Engineers and Washington State Department of Ecology staff presented information on the banking process, including how the Interagency Review Team (IRT) is established and what the various roles are within the IRT. Subsequent to these presentations, attendees had the opportunity to take a tour of the proposed Bank site, to ask questions, and to provide input both in person and using an anonymous online follow-up survey.
The online follow-up survey consisted of three parts: one section where pre-prospectus meeting participants were asked to rank the proposed credit types in order of perceived need and importance (as modified by input received during the meeting on the initial list, when more potential credit types were added); a series of 7 specific questions to help refine existing conditions data collection, IRT collaboration, conceptual design refinement, and anticipated monitoring needs; and a field for providing any additional thoughts or comments participants wished to convey. When asked to rank the proposed credit types, fish was #1, wetlands was #2, and Section 10/Waters of the U.S. was #3. Of the specific questions and open-ended comment field, the most notable responses that were integrated into this prospectus include:
- support for developing additional credit types including credits for oak woodland, Oregon spotted frog, streaked horned lark, and Western yellow-billed cuckoo in addition to our original list of proposed credit types;
- the potential for an out-of-basin Service Area for fish credits as well as a cross-state Service Area for various credit types;
- support for the idea and belief in the feasibility of stacking credits in a way that can be accounted for and would not be considered “double-dipping”;
- that aside from wetland credits, proposed buffers for alternate credit types will vary based on the specific habitat function or species, and will need to be developed with the IRT as there is in general currently little to no guidance for this determination.
The feedback we received from the participating agencies and co-chairs during the pre-prospectus meeting and site visit was invaluable. Based on the input and feedback received during the pre-prospectus meeting and follow-up communications with participants, as well as our market analysis and existing conditions data collected to date, we developed a prospectus document which was submitted to the Interagency Review Team (IRT) on 22 October 2015. Our prospectus document provides a conceptual overview of the proposed Bank and serves as a scoping document and basis for initial review and comment by the IRT and public. The IRT Co-chairs then use the prospectus and comments received during the public notice period to make an initial determination of completeness, and to identify any critical issues that might potentially affect the certification of the Bank. The template for this prospectus is based on the requirements of Ecology’s revised November 2014 Prospectus Submittal Procedures for Federal and State Wetland Mitigation Banks in Washington State (Ecology 2014) as well as co-chair feedback on a preliminary draft prospectus and a revised proposed joint wetland and conservation bank prospectus outline. We also consulted wetland mitigation and conservation bank prospectus guidance documents from other states, most notably checklists developed by multiple agencies for initiating the development of mitigation banking proposals in California (Multi-Agency Product Delivery Team 2010). These checklists outline biological resource information needed from preliminary site surveys that is necessary to help address conservation bank proposals, since there is not yet any official guidance for joint wetland and conservation bank proposals in Washington State.
The Wapato Valley Mitigation and Conservation Bank Prospectus public notice was posted on 21 December 2015 through the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) and Washington State Department of Ecology. The public comment period for the prospectus is now closed. View an archived version of the public notice and to learn more about the Wapato Valley Mitigation and Conservation Bank HERE. Wapato Valley Prospectus Document
The Interagency Review Team (IRT) is an interagency group of federal, state, tribal, and local regulatory and resource agency representatives who are invited to participate in negotiations with the Bank sponsor on the terms and conditions of the Mitigation Banking Instrument and oversee the management and operation of the Bank. The IRT in the state of Washington is typically co-chaired by the Seattle District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Ecology.
The purpose of a Mitigation Banking Instrument (MBI) is to specify responsibilities for the establishment, use, operation, and maintenance of the Bank. It consists of a “Basic Agreement” establishing the central obligations assumed and consideration provided by each party, as well as appendices that establish the detailed Bank implementation plan, including site-specific conditions, standards, and procedural requirements applicable to the Bank. The terms and provisions of the appendices are incorporated into the MBI, and provide technical support for bank design, operation, maintenance, and protection. These appendices are typically produced during the bank technical review period to help the sponsor and IRT negotiate how site plans, performance standards, credit releases, and other major components of the bank are developed. These appendices also serve as reference for the bank decision-making process.
Once the Mitigation Banking Instrument (MBI) has been developed, it will be submitted to the Interagency Review Team (IRT) co-chairs for signature, and other IRT members who have been involved in the development of the Mitigation Banking Instrument will be invited sign the agreement as signatories. The MBI constitutes the entire agreement between the Parties.
Due to the large size of the proposed Bank Site and the logistics of large-scale in-water and floodplain/wetland construction, construction will require implementation of an estimated 5 phases over 5 or more construction seasons. Much of the earthwork will be limited to regulatory in-water work periods and summer and fall dry periods when soils will be dry enough for access and excavation. Vegetation enhancements are also seasonal in sequencing, and planting in areas of high groundwater connectivity and tidal exchange can be challenging. Construction efficiency is heavily influenced by hydrology and river stage in the Columbia River in any given year. In good flow years when snowpack provides a sufficient spring freshet-like late spring/early summer flood event, ground water and hyporheic flows can be so charged up that soils do not dry out until late fall, and can be challenging to complete before the protective in-water work window closes. Even in parts of the Site that are not currently accessible to fish, the water table must subside below the soil surface before access and excavation or other heavy equipment activity is possible. The construction sequencing will be refined during the design process and activities may shift to accommodate seasonal water levels in any given year.
Given the geographic setting of Plas Newydd Farm as well as the landscape restoration focus of the proposed Bank, the Bank is functionally a biodiversity bank; it will restore, protect, and preserve a unique community of lower Columbia River floodplain habitats and the diversity of native flora and fauna that depend on them. As such, the proposed Bank has the potential to provide a suite or combination of credit types. An appropriate crediting system that accommodates the many potential credit types on the proposed Bank Site will be evaluated and developed in coordination with the IRT. A Bank sponsor must meet specific performance standards in order to have credits released for an approved bank project. The Mitigation Banking Instrument will contain a credit release schedule that outlines how many credits will be awarded once a particular performance standard is met.
Plas Newydd LLC will develop a Long-Term Management and Maintenance Plan consistent with the guidelines and objectives developed in collaboration with the IRT. During the Bank development process, broad-scale objectives identified in the Prospectus will be utilized to develop more resource- and implementation-phase specific objectives that will evolve into the Performance Standards for incorporation into the Monitoring Plan and Mitigation Banking Instrument. As the long-term steward, Plas Newydd LLC is responsible for execution of the approved Long-Term Management and Maintenance Plan.
The underlying land title will stay in the ownership and management of the Morgan family and Plas Newydd LLC. The proposed Bank Site will be protected via perpetual conservation easement, and the terms of the conservation easement(s) will be approved by the IRT. At the time that performance standards are met and upon completion of required monitoring, a qualified land steward as defined by RCW 47.12.370 will be engaged and provided with a sufficient endowment to protect and maintain the Site in perpetuity.