Army Corps Proposing Change To Wetlands Rules - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Army Corps Proposing Change To Wetlands Rules

Rebuilding coast neighborhoods and businesses is clashing with wetlands regulations. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is getting so many requests for permit changes, it's considering changing the wetlands rules.

The Corps is reviewing the merits of letting developers fill-in ten times more wetlands area. Developers say the plan would make Katrina recovery move faster, but environmentalists worry filling wetlands will make South Mississippi more vulnerable.

In their proposal, the Army Corps of Engineers uses phrases like "protecting aquatic resources" and "ensuring minimal aquatic impacts." It sounds good, but local environmentalists would argue, it's not good enough.

The Army Corps' plan would allow home and business builders to fill up to five acres of low quality wetlands - a dramatic increase from the current half acre limit.

Howard Page of the Sierra Club says it would be a mistake to fill in wetlands.

"What would be called a low quality wetland still provides huge amounts of flood protection."

Page says the soil that defines wetlands not only absorbs water, but helps to slow it down. 

"So when that big 10 inches of rains come in one day, it can give you those few hours to let that water soak in instead of it just rushing immediately to your house, (rather) if you filled it in with parking lots, and drive ways and red clay fill. "

Homes in the Forrest Heights community remain gutted after Hurricane Katrina. If the Corps' proposal is approved, the large area of wetlands behind it could be developed. Page believes that could leave this already devastated neighborhood, even more vulnerable.

"If you filled in this acreage, you could put those houses that didn't flood at risk, and those houses that did flood would be at greater risk because they would get higher flood waters."

Don Halle of the Coast's Homebuilders Association disagrees. He says the proposal will promote growth after Katrina, without compromising precious wetlands.

"Anything to help us develop land that we have out there, and this proposal that they have is for minimal or low quality lands - not those lands that are affected by streams or estuaries or marine life."

Halle also points out, building on such wetlands would lower costs and eliminate the mitigation process for areas that are not "true" wetlands.

"Those lands that man may have created by putting in roads or other things that over time have met the definition of wetlands."

Ultimately, the Corps of Engineers will have to decide if this proposal is right for south Mississippi.

The Corps is accepting public feedback through November 10th. To participate, visit www.sam.usace.army.mil/rd/reg/public.htm.

By Meggan Gray

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