Wetlands permitting became an area of concern at the Port of The Dalles after two planned developments were delayed in the permitting process due to a lack of alternatives available to mitigate for previously unidentified seasonal wetlands known collectively as vernal pools.
The Oregon Department of State Lands administers provisions of the U.S. Clean Water Act on behalf of the federal government. The agency’s administrative rules specify no net loss of wetlands within state boundaries, so any developer who proposes to disturb a wetland must compensate for damage through by either replacing, expanding or improving wetlands elsewhere in the same hydrological unit.
One of those two developments was able to resolve its permitting issue through a special permission to buy Willamette Valley area wetlands credits, after a costly and lengthy process determined that few mitigation options exist in the local area for these vernal pools. The other developer used a substantial portion of land available on site to mitigate and was approved for a permit but remains in a length appeals battle.
The Port of The Dalles recognized that these delays did not represent reasonable timelines for many potential developers. As a result, the Port coordinated a multi-year effort, working with the Department of State Lands, other local, state and federal regulators, and a variety of stakeholders and landowners to develop a plan to streamline as much of the process as possible for the six largest properties within the industrial zone (see maps).
The resulting Advanced Aquatic Resource Plan and related products provide a potentially quicker and less costly pathway through the wetlands permitting process.
Using the plan is voluntary. Even if a developer chooses another route, some products of this process can still save the developer time and money, including wetlands delineations approved through:
Site 1: March 6, 2020 – eligible for 5-year reissue
Site 2: March 6, 2020 – eligible for 5-year reissue
Site 3: July 23, 2017 – eligible for 5-year reissue
Site 4: June 18, 2019
Site 5: March 5, 2020 – eligible for 5-year reissue
Site 6: January 1, 2020
An Oregon Rapid Wetlands Assessment Protocol, which describes and prioritizes the various functions of the wetlands, has also been completed for all of the study area land. These can be used regardless of whether the developer chooses to follow the expedited plan.
The Advanced Aquatic Resource Plan itself outlines a strategy intended to maximize the amount and quality of developable land while at the same time protecting sensitive and high-value wetlands. One advantage of using the Plan is that it has already faced a period of public review and comment. That means any permit application following the plan will not be subject to further review and the potential of permit appeals. The Department of State Lands anticipates that once a permit application is determined to be complete under Department rules, an approval decision should be reached in 45 days when the applicant is using fee in lieu or wetland bank credits, if available, or 60 days when the applicant is self-mitigating.
Unfortunately, fee in lieu and wetland bank programs are not available in our area at this time.
Some parts of the process are not accelerated by using the Plan, including excavation and fill plans and stormwater management plans.
On July 8, the Director of the Department of State Lands signed an executive order approving and implementing the Advance Aquatic Resource plan for use in seeking state wetlands permits.