Wetlands a Growing Challenge

There's hardly a spot along the coast that isn't wetlands.

Environmentalists say instead of a problem, wetlands should be considered an asset that needs protecting. Sierra Club Chairperson Becky Gillette says that's why developers should try to choose land that's not all or mostly wetlands.

"That's the problem we had with the Ocean Springs soccer complex," Gillette says.  "The site is nearly 100 percent wetlands, and so you can't avoid the wetlands impact when the whole 100 acres is wetlands."

Before anything is built in a wetlands area, a developer has to get various state and federal permits. Environmental Scientist Larry Lewis says it's pretty simple and includes a review process.

"Some of the basic questions that are asked are questions like, have you done all you can to avoid an minimize impacts to wetlands, in other words have you done all you can do to utililize the uplands first and then if you need additional space, you can consider wetlands," Lewis says.

Lewis describes uplands as non-wetlands, non-regulated areas of the site.

Gillette points to the Ocean Springs sports complex as an example of a general misunderstanding of wetlands and the laws that preserve them.

"They don't understand that we have a no-net wetlands loss policy for the whole U.S. and that these are valued and that the government actually has a policy of trying to preserve what little bit is left because we have destroyed like 80 percent of the wetlands that we have," Gillette says.

Lewis says, "There is a school of thought that says all we have to do is mitigate for the loss, we don't have to pay attention to where we're putting something as long as we compensate for that loss."

Lewis says there wouldn't be loss if people just follow the regulations that stress avoiding or minimizing construction in wetlands altogether.