By Bryce Martin | Pioneer Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Land currently occupied by Bowman’s existing airport could further benefit the county as plans were discussed this week to transform the acreage into resourceful wetland areas.
The benefit of creating a “mitigation bank” was highlighted by the North Dakota Department of Transportation on Tuesday during the regular meeting of the Bowman County Board of Commissioners. Representatives from the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Brosz Engineering, Bowman Airport Authority and the Bowman County Economic Development Corp. (BCDC) joined the meeting to provide their input on the issue.
A mitigation bank is an area of wetland that has been restored, established, enhanced or preserved to provide compensation — or offset — for unavoidable impacts made to aquatic resources. To “mitigate” means to make less harsh or hostile.
Environmental mitigation is a part of a system established by government that involves allocating credits, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Credits are given in situations where a natural resource is improved or preserved.
David Dewald of the NDDOT said Tuesday’s meeting broke new ground since the department had never previously entered into a mitigation plan with a county. The NDDOT typically makes such plans with landowners.
The NDDOT segmented the state into five regional service areas, with a mitigation bank located in each except for the one that includes Bowman County, referred to by the NDDOT as the Southwest Slope area. The Southwest Slope area covers land from Bowman County to McKenzie County and over to Sioux County.
Dewald told the commissioners that the department wanted a mitigation bank in each of the regions to mitigate impacts from road projects.
The NDDOT approached the county commissioners to gauge their interest in creating a wetland area on the northwest portion of the current airport’s land.
“Wetland acres, to me, you’ve got to have,” Commissioner Pine Abrahamson said.
Mitigation banking has a number of advantages, according to the EPA. It can reduce uncertainty over the mitigation’s success in offsetting impacts, apply extensive resources and expertise not always available, reduce permit processing times and provide more cost-effective compensatory mitigation opportunities.
Dewald indicated that 9.91 credits for the land’s mitigation could be awarded to the county if they are owners of the land, though that was a preliminary estimate.
Bowman County currently has no banked credits.
Mitigation could be seen, however, as contributing to the increasing cost of land because some mitigation work requires that large amounts of land be purchased or put into conservation easements. Mitigation can therefore compete with other rural land uses such as agriculture and residential development. This suggests that landowners must be alert to find the highest and best use for their properties given the potential market value that mitigation credits represent.
Last year, the BCDC asked commissioners if the county would be willing to purchase the entire airport land, located west of the city of Bowman. That land could be used for industrial and commercial development.
While the commissioners did not make an official decision at that time, they agreed to have a feasibility study conducted for the land.
Teran Doerr, executive director of the BCDC, said Tuesday that a preliminary feasibility study was in progress.
Gary Brennan of Brosz Engineering Inc. in Bowman said during the meeting that he previously met with a representative from the Federal Aviation Authority, who gave a “verbal blessing” to allow the county’s purchase of the land. Though, a price has not yet been provided to the county.
Commissioner Lynn Brackel reiterated that the county hasn’t decided if it wants to purchase the land, but said that the county needs credits.
“It would be a good selling point to the public if we got credits,” Brackel said about the county purchasing the airport land. “We need credits just as much as (the NDDOT).”
Dewald indicated that the land, if purchased by the county, could also be sold to raise funds for improvement to the new airport, located east of the city of Bowman. If purchased, the county could also sell the wetlands.
Abrahamson indicated the possible interest of also forming a mitigation bank on an area of the airport’s land west of the existing hangars and to the south of the runway. Doerr agreed that would be a promising spot; it could potentially mean more credits for the county.
Another benefit of the mitigation, indicated by the NDDOT, would be the amount of fill soil that would be removed from the site and available for use if an industrial park is constructed on the land.
“It seems like a win-win,” Dewald said.
The rain in Bowman County for the last three years has accumulated over other areas on the airport’s land; it could be considered standing water and not necessarily wetlands.
To be classified as an official wetland requires certain specific characteristics. The land needs to have hydric soil, which is soil that is seasonally or permanently saturated by water. Such soil results in wetland vegetation. The area would also require anaerobic conditions, or conditions were oxygen is not present. Hydric soil leads to such conditions. In that environment, which the NDDOT said is present on the northwest side of the airport, there are restrictive layers that prohibit water from being absorbed quickly. The oxygen-free conditions pull minerals from the soil and results in a rotten egg smell, which all culminate to produce hydric soil.
“You can’t dig a hole anywhere and call it a wetland,” said Toni Erhardt of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Dakota Regulatory Office.
Nelson indicated that more information regarding the additional site’s wetland eligibility would be known around the end of May. At that time, Doerr said the feasibility study could be complete.