Being a coastal community, Mukilteo is blessed with many natural features such as forested ravines, streams, and wetlands. Wetlands in particular have been strictly regulated by the Department of Ecology since the mid-1980’s and have limited the development potential of property. However in late 2010, Ecology, with the Corp of Engineers, established rules that allow for more development flexibility and the City developed a program that takes advantage of these new state rules. The Critical Areas Mitigation Program (CAMP) offers more flexibility for property owners to explore off-site mitigation options for mitigating unavoidable impacts to wetlands in order to develop in-fill properties. You can view the Critical Areas Mitigation Program (2011) anytime.
Development Impacts to Wetlands
In the past, unavoidable impacts to wetlands were required to be mitigated on-site, limiting development potential for properties containing wetlands. Additionally, on-site mitigation does not always help meet the broader ecological goals or functions of wetlands. The state’s rules, along with the City’s wetland mitigation program will allow property owners the option of expanding or restoring existing wetlands on City-owned property versus on-site mitigation.
The City’s wetland mitigation program has identified specific locations where mitigation is allowed. This off-site mitigation program takes a watershed approach and focuses on locations where there is known potential for wetland function improvement. This watershed approach incorporates our collective understanding on how ecological processes determine ecological functions of a drainage basin, determining how ecological processes have been altered by development, and identifies areas where processes can be most effectively restored and where they are most in need of protection. Other environmental benefits of the program include improving water quality, managing water flow, and increasing water storage capacity. Examples of off-site mitigation options in the draft program include creating new wetlands, restoring existing deteriorated wetlands, removal of impervious surface area, removing fish barriers and improving wildlife habitat. In combination, it creates a more comprehensive approach to watersheds as wetlands are usually near the headwaters of a stream system.
The program focuses on Japanese Gulch, Big Gulch, and Picnic Point Gulch. Our goal is that by preparing an Off-Site Mitigation program, the City can initiate a long-term program that can improve our environment while providing options to those who want to develop their in-fill property. The City’s has identified eleven sites within Mukilteo and its UGA (urban growth area) that provide the opportunity for sustainable critical area mitigation.
Mitigation Options for Property Owners
The expanded program has several mitigation options which a property owner can choose from:
- Traditional On-Site Mitigation: Mitigation, such as wetland creation, re-establishment, or enhancement is conducted on the same parcel as the impact. The on-site mitigation follows the traditional mitigation sequencing steps: avoidance, minimization, and finally compensation. If compensation is proposed, then mitigation would occur on site by meeting the established mitigation ratios and planning requirements for the type of impacts proposed.
- Off-Site Mitigation: Using the watershed approach described above, a property owner could mitigate their wetland or buffer impacts off site in a predetermined location which is connected to a larger ecosystem. The ecosystem alternative approach is based on detailed review of the City’s (and UGA) drainage basins and critical area habitat. This type of mitigation would balance the objective of protecting valuable environmental ecosystems while accommodating growth of residential, commercial and industrial needs of the community. The off-site mitigation sites are located on both public and private property: use of public sites is allowed by this program and use of private property will only be allowed if approved by the private property owner.
- Fee In-Lieu Program: Fee In-Lieu allows a property owner to reduce on-site buffer widths in exchange for making sure that water quality facilities are installed on the site, and contributing money to a City managed Fee In-Lieu program. The City then uses money from the program to purchase land for protection or enhance a City restoration site as described in the program.
- Off-Site Mitigation Bank: As an alternative to the options noted above, a property owner would have the option of paying into an approved wetland mitigation bank to compensate for their wetland impacts.
For more information about wetland mitigation, CAMP or the fee in-lieu program, contact the Permit Center at 425-263-8000 or by email.