Marty and Max: Got wetlands?
| May 5, 2023 1:00 AM
A friend of mine came to me recently and told me the property they bought over a year ago was mostly covered with wetlands. Urgent questions followed: “Are they going to let us build a shop here?” “What are we allowed to do on wetlands?” “Shouldn’t my Realtor have shown me this before we bought it?” The truth is, realtors are NOT wetland experts.
If you are curious to know if you have wetlands, try finding your property at the mapping system on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. If you see colored shading on your property when you find it on the map, you have wetlands! This map is especially helpful because it can tell you what kind of wetlands you have. That is important. Not all wetlands are created equally. In fact, the code that describes the type of wetland you have on your property is only one of 5,483 different codes that classify 5,483 different types of wetlands. You can consult a wetland surveyor or the Army Corps of Engineers. In some instances, an owner may be required to consult the Idaho Department of Lands. These are the experts.
It is important to find out what your designation means. The type of wetland you have may be grazable by livestock, you might still be able to get a permit to build, and you may even be able to mitigate your wetland area.
One client that I had in the past purchased a waterfront home. His wetland type is Lacustrine/Limnetic. While we were in escrow we checked to make sure the dock was permitted (it was) but discovered there was another permit that was not complete for the beach. We finished the process during escrow and closed the transaction successfully. Through this process, I learned that the dock was the easiest thing to permit because its footprint was so small. The piers of the dock only impacted a tiny portion of the wetland. The sand that was hauled in for the beach was far more impactful to the environment and required the involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers as well as the Idaho Department of Lands. Both agencies required permits, surveys, and professional designs drawn by a qualified expert, and it needed to be built by expert landscapers under the supervision of designated inspectors. The encouraging part: All of it was doable. It wasn’t hard; it just took time. Both departments were not antagonists to my client. They simply wanted to make sure the beach could be installed in a way that wouldn’t harm the fish or the birds in the environment on the lakeshore or cause undue erosion.
The phrase “Wetland Mitigation” has a negative feel at first blush. Like “mold mitigation,” or “radon mitigation.” It is a solution to a couple of big problems.
Problem 1: Jeremy wants to build a house in a place where homes are desperately needed, but the property has a 1-acre swampy area designated as a wetland where ducks and geese (occasionally a moose) visit during their annual migration patterns. The county planning department has designated this area as a residential zone and wants Jeremy to build there but cannot allow the building project on top of a wetland.
Problem 2: Seven years ago, Jake owned a 100-acre dry field in a rural wild area, but the quality of the hay it was producing was declining, his neighbor with the baling machine ran off with Jake's dog, and Jake didn’t have the time to commit to farming. He’s a realtor. Jake needed to do something with the property. It was just wasting away.
Solution: Jake decided to talk with the Army Corps of Engineers about turning his unused 100 acres into a wetland mitigation project. After an initial consultation with the ACoE, Jake began the 7-year process of surveying, damming, and flooding his 100 acres to turn it into a high-quality wetland habitat for waterfowl and moose, among other things. The ACoE runs this program to offset wetland habitat that needs to be destroyed in developable areas. By creating more and better wetlands in other areas, the environment is only improved for wildlife and for people.
7 years later… Jeremy asks the county if he can mitigate the wetland area he wants to build on. The county says yes, so Jeremy calls up Jake and pays $25,000 for one acre of mitigation from Jake’s new wetland mitigation bank, using the wetland mitigation project run by the ACoE. Jeremy is now able to drain the build site near town, add fill to raise the grade of the property, and continues with his build project. Jake has sold his first mitigation acre and is making money from his property again. Geese and ducks have been finding his wetland and enjoy paddling through the cattails. Jake smiles. Jeremy smiles. The county smiles. The ACoE smiles. The ducks smile.
Everybody wins – Even the moose.
Bottom Line is, if you have wondered whether you have wetlands on your property in the past, I encourage you to check an online wetland map to see. If you feel you may be out of your depth, please call an experienced realtor to help you get acquainted with the wetlands on your property.
Toby Atencio is a realtor with REMAX and can be reached at www.tobya.remax.com.