Restoration vs. Enhancement in Wetland Mitigation Banks

Wetland mitigation banks are often sited in areas that have been historically altered by significant anthropogenic activities. These areas, prior to man’s disturbances, were often natural wetland areas with significant ecological value and habitat for what are now threatened and/or endangered species. While some natural aspects may return to these sites once disturbances cease, more often than not, these sites never regain natural plant assemblages and habitat features. i.e., normal wetland functions and values. Mitigation banking, using state-of-the–art wetland restoration techniques, can bring about the necessary site improvements that allow for natural wetland attributes to return.

Federal regulations and some state (notably Maryland) regulations provide wetland banking credits as restoration credits, rather than merely enhancement credits. These governmental entities recognize that bringing back wetlands in disturbed areas (in particular, formerly farmed areas) is a true restoration activity that warrants restoration credits at a 2:1 ratio rather than merely enhancement credits, at a higher 3:1 ratio. Unfortunately, the State of New Jersey regulations are vague, leaving the agency to follow their own policy that does not recognize the significance of restoration and discourages mitigation banking. In the case of the Oxford Western Wetland Mitigation Bank, the state needs to recognize that the project is a wetland restoration, not merely enhancement, as federal agencies and other states would.

In 2003, federal agencies put together a user’s guide for wetland restoration, creation and enhancement.* These agencies use commonly-accepted definitions of these terms as follows:


Restoration – Returning a degraded wetland or former wetland to a pre-existing condition or as close to that condition as is possible.

Creation – Converting a non-wetland (either dry land or un-vegetated water) to a wetland.

Enhancement – Increasing one or more of the functions performed by an existing wetland beyond what currently or previously existed in the wetland. There is often an accompanying decrease in other functions.

Since that time, most agencies and states have allowed former farmland to be considered restoration for mitigation banking purposes. According to the definitions above, restoration entails returning a wetland to a natural former state, while enhancement means changing the wetland so that one or more functions are increased beyond their original state. Enhancing a wetland in one way can degrades it in another way.

Since restoration and enhancement projects may be difficult to distinguish from each other – because both can encompass activities in existing degraded wetland – NJDEP can place reliance on the expertise of other agency personnel, university researchers and wetland professionals to make that determination.

In the case of the Oxford Western Wetland Mitigation Bank, restoration is achieved by returning a farmed area to its pre-existing wetland state by creating a natural meander to the channelized brook and ditched farmland. The project restores wetland functions beyond the farmland condition and in no way degrades any other functions.

Unfortunately for many sites, the State of New Jersey has considered passive methods (leaving sites alone) as proof that the sites may become wetlands again, disregarding true functions and values. However, other states and the federal government have noted that passive methods are not enough to restore the natural system and an active approach (as in Oxford) is necessary. Active approaches involve physical intervention in which humans directly control site processes to restore, create, or enhance wetland systems. The active approach is most appropriate when a wetland is severely degraded. Active methods that will be employed in Oxford include re-contouring a site to the desired topography and micro-topography; intensive planting and seeding, intensive non-native species control, and ensuring that soils provide the proper substrate for native species. The design, engineering, construction, and costs for such work can be significant. In the case of the Oxford Mitigation Bank, the cost will be close to $1 million.

It is our hope that NJDEP will review their policies and use the current flexibility in their regulations to view this Oxford project correctly as a restoration effort. What are your thoughts?

* 2003. Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.

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Tony Bianchini
Open Door Media
(609) 396-6620


Site will be stewarded by the New Jersey Audubon Society

January 24, 2012 – (Oxford, NJ) – Ecologic Resources Group (ERG), an environmental project firm based in West Long Branch, NJ, announced today that it has received approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for the first phase of a 166-acre wetland mitigation bank in Oxford Township.

As a result of the approval of Phase 1 of the mitigation bank, ERG will begin selling wetlands preservation credits for the 74.5 acre western portion of the property to developers, utility companies and other impacted companies with projects in Watershed Management Areas #1 and #2 in Warren and Sussex Counties. Companies who are required to mitigate for wetland impacts may purchase bank credits from the Oxford Mitigation Bank with prior approval from the NJDEP. ERG will develop Phase 2 of the property, an additional 91.5 acres on the eastern portion of the site, at a later date.

The design of the Oxford Mitigation Bank will enhance privately owned wetlands on a site that previously served as farmland and as a buffer for an industrial site. In addition to redeveloping the former site, benefitting the environment and helping companies to mitigate the adverse impacts to wetlands and wetland buffers caused by development activities, the project will also help companies to satisfy current Natural Resource Damage claims.

“Based on the amount of large infrastructure and other development projects being proposed for the northwest region of New Jersey, we expect the demand for mitigation credits to be extremely high,” said Jim Kasten, Executive Director of ERG. “To make sure the distribution of credits meets demand, ERG is putting in place a process by which potential buyers can assess their present and future need for credits and participate in a procurement process that ensures that their project can demonstrate compliance with statutory wetland mitigation requirements and proceed as scheduled.”

The New Jersey Audubon Society is serving as a sponsor on the project. After ERG completes restoration of the site and concludes a five-year monitoring period, the New Jersey Audubon Society will steward the land. ERG will provide the New Jersey Audubon Society with funding for stewardship of the property.

“The approval of the Oxford Mitigation Bank will have a positive impact for New Jersey as ERG has taken a former industrial site, remediated it, and will now be transforming it into exceptional wetlands that will provide a wide range of wetland functional values, especially critical habitat for both plants and wildlife,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of the New Jersey Audubon Society. “Not only will the bank serve as home to many native species, including several threatened and endangered mammals and herptiles, but will also provide important habitat for a diversity of birds for breeding, wintering and migrating in the State.”

“We’re excited that this important project was approved by the NJDEP as the availability of wetlands credits to developers and other companies will help us to restore a vital wetland to the Pequest River Watershed,” said Jennifer DiLorenzo, Director of Environmental Management for ERG. “Our experts will apply sound ecological practices and environmental sustainability principles to this project to enhance existing environmental conditions at the site, so natural ecosystems can thrive.”

Facts about the Oxford Mitigation Bank

The Oxford Mitigation Bank is located in the Furnace Brook drainage area in the Pequest River Watershed (Watershed Management Area #1 – Upper Delaware). Watershed Management Area #1 is located in Warren County and the western portion of Sussex County and includes northern New Jersey Delaware River tributaries such as: the Musconetcong River, Pohatcong Creek, Pequest River, Palinskill River and the Flatbrook River.

Watershed Management #2, known as the Wallkill River Watershed, covers the eastern portion of Sussex County and includes headwaters that begin at Lake Mohawk in Sparta Township. These headwaters flow north into New York and empty into the Hudson River. Within this watershed, there are also four sub watersheds, including: Pochuck Creek, the Wallkill River, Rutgers Creek Tributaries and the Papakating Creek.

The Oxford Mitigation Bank has been designed and engineered to enhance the following wetland functions and values:

• Flood Storage
• Groundwater Recharge and Discharge
• Shoreline Anchoring and Erosion Control
• Water Quality Control
• Riparian Corridor Integrity
• Habitat for Native Flora and Fauna
• Passive Recreation Activities

About Ecologic Resources Group

Ecologic Resources Group (ERG), an environmental project firm based in West Long Branch, NJ, provides mitigation banking, green projects, green technology and environmental services. ERG, founded in 2008, is creating a number of mitigation banking and sustainable projects on the East Coast. ERG’s team of professionals has a broad range of background, education and experience that brings a distinctive approach to and a comprehensive understanding of the technical, political and economic framework. The ERG staff includes environmental scientists with advanced degrees in aquatic and marine biology, wetlands science and geographic information systems, as well as professions as diverse as construction and project management, land use, architecture, government, finance and law. For more information about ERG, please call: (732) 571-1777 or visit their website at:

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Oxford Mitigation Bank receives approval from NJDEP

The Oxford Western Wetland Mitigation Bank received its Individual Flood Hazard Area Permit and Freshwater Wetlands General Permit 16 from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on December 16, 2011. These permits allow ERG to begin constructing a Wetland Mitigation Bank that will be able to sell mitigation credits in New Jersey Watershed Management Areas 1 & 2 (Northwest New Jersey).

The mitigation bank will result in 74.5 acres of restored wetlands resulting from the conversion of a former sod farm to Palustrine Emergent, Palustrine Scrub-Shrub and Palustrine Forested wetlands. The wetlands will provide habitat for Red-Shouldered Hawks, a New Jersey endangered species and three state-listed threatened species: Barred Owls, Cooper’s Hawk and Wood Turtle. In addition, it will provide habitat for three species of Special Concern: Great Blue Heron, Wood Thrush and Yellow-Breasted Chat.

Vernal pool features on the site will be enhanced which will provide protection for Wood Frogs and habitat for other amphibian species such as the Spring Peeper, Northern Grey Tree Frogs, Green Frogs and Bull Frogs. The Furnace Brook will be restored from its made-made channelized state to a natural meander, providing better freshwater fish habitat thereby increasing the Fish Index of Biological Integrity. While no freshwater mussels are currently found on the site, habitat restoration of the Furnace Brook will allow these to return.

The Oxford Wetland Mitigation Bank represents a private enterprise dedicated to restoring wetlands and threatened and endangered species habitat. Credits can be purchased by calling Ecologic Resources Group at (732) 571-1777.

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The Tennessee Pipeline Project and Environmental Balance

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) Company is a subsidiary of El Paso Corporation. TGP has proposed the development of a 40-mile natural gas pipeline to (FERC) Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to provide sustainable power for energy consumers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Northeast Region of the United States. In New Jersey, the pipeline will cross Sussex and Passaic Counties. Natural gas is put into the pipeline and the gas is transported underground to residential, commercial or industrial customers.

The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University recently undertook a study, the Economic Analysis of the Northeast Upgrade Project in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (March, 2011) that showed the $341 million project will generate 1,795 job years (equivalent to one full-time job lasting 1 year); $74.5 million in income for local labor, $101.5 million in gross domestic product and more than $65 million in federal, state and local taxes. In New Jersey, job creation will be across several industries including construction, manufacturing, wholesale, transportation, and public utilities, retail trade, and services. The project is clearly needed to meet the economic demand, but what about environmental concerns?

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline will be constructed through environmentally sensitive lands in Pennsylvania and the Highlands Region of New Jersey. Federal and state environmental agencies have required El Paso Corporation to conduct environmental impact studies which indicate that there will be significant impacts to surface and ground water, wetlands and natural resources, including threatened and endangered species. The company is required to mitigate for these impacts and has proposed returning the “right-of-way” to its original condition by replanting, reseeding and regarding so that natural resources can continue to thrive. In addition, TGP will have to provide compensation (replacement lands) or compensatory mitigation for any impacts to wetlands and natural resources. At ERG, we believe that compensatory mitigation for wetland disturbance – like ERG’s Oxford Wetland Mitigation Bank – can be the bridge between sustaining a robust environment and necessary energy infrastructure needs for our nation.

If carried out with a committment to the concept of no let loss of wetlands, this project will show that economic development and environmental protection can co-exist for the benefit of New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents.

Let ERG know your thoughts.

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Storing Flood Waters as part of a “National Natural Security” and “Green Infrastructure” System

While Hurricane Irene was less intense that originally predicted by meteorologists, it was not without significant local impacts. Indeed, there is still concern that Irene’s deluge will cause cresting rivers and failing dams in the Northeast even after the sun comes out.

At ERG, we know that restoring riparian corridors and establishing wetland mitigation banks can provide natural protection during and after hurricane events and other natural disasters.

The natural benefits of riparian corridors and wetlands are many. Ecologically, they provide habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species, recreational and open space for the public; they also serve as flood water storage areas and natural water quality treatment systems by filtering non-point source pollutants. ERG believes that encouraging wetland restoration through mitigation banks serves many green infrastructure purposes. States and the federal government should expand mitigation banking regulations to include riparian corridor, floodwater and habitat credits. These mitigation banking credits should be encouraged as a pro-private sector business opportunity.

The American Rivers Organization recently published a report: National Security: How Sustainable Water Strategies Prepare Communities for a Changing Climate, which advocates the use of green infrastructure for the future; it cites examples of successful community projects that use wetlands as a cost-effective way to provide clean water and flood protection. This report also advocates capturing rainwater for reuse, to prevent storm water damage and for pollution prevention. It is our view that credits for storm water recapture provided through a mitigation banking system would advance restoration and creation of wetlands.

Similarly, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board published, Putting a Price on Riparian Corridors as Water Treatment Facilities. This article demonstrates that natural riparian corridors can be equally effective as urban conventional water treatment facilities without the millions of dollars in average annual costs. The added benefit of restoring of the riparian corridor and wetlands for flood protection prevents millions of dollars lost in flood damage, strongly supporting a green infrastructure approach for communities.

Our opinion is that states and the federal government need to review these publications, and change their rules, regulations and policies to encourage greener infrastructure and banking credits. You can read the American Rivers report at: and the California Regional Water Quality Report at: .

We’d like to know your opinion.

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Tidal Wetlands: Restoration Through Mitigation Banking

Tidal wetlands line much of the salt water shore, bays, inlets, canals, and estuaries of our nation’s coastline. They are valued for marine food production, wildlife habitat, as well as flood, hurricane and storm control; recreation; cleansing of ecosystems; absorption of silt and organic material; education and research opportunities; and aesthetic values. Areas adjacent to tidal wetlands often carry many of the same or similar valuable attributes and, in addition, provide a valuable buffer for the wetlands.

In many coastal areas, human activities have adversely affected, and in some cases destroyed, the delicate ecological balance of these important tidal wetlands areas. The policy of most states, through their environmental conservation laws and regulations, is to preserve and protect these wetlands. Like freshwater wetlands, most states have a “no-net-loss” policy for tidal wetlands.

While state natural resources agencies have regulations to prevent the damage and destruction of tidal wetlands, many development projects have significantly reduced the acreage of tidal wetlands and subsequently, reduced their functionality.

In many states, tidal wetlands disturbance and fragmentation, has enabled one species, Phragmites, spp. to outcompete the natural wetland species assemblage. Species such as Spartina alterniflora (salt marsh cordgrass) and Spartina patens (Salt meadow cordgrass) are often absent due to wetland disturbances. A healthy salt marsh depends upon the presence of these grasses, which provide a habitat for crustaceans, mollusks, and birds, and serve as a major source of organic nutrients for the entire estuary. Mats of salt hay grass are inhabited by many small animals and are an important food source for ducks and Seaside Sparrows.

Restoring natural assemblages of wetlands plants can be a costly undertaking for natural resources agencies and not-for-profit conservation groups. Mitigation banking can provide the funding necessary to restore native vegetation using private investments without public funds. In addition, mitigation banks are often large tracts of land, rather than small, fragmented parcels making successful wetland creation, restoration and enhancement possible and functionally sustainable. State agencies and the federal government should facilitate the creation of more tidal wetland banks for the benefit of our natural resources and reverse the declining wetland trend in this country.

That’s our opinion, what’s yours?

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The Environment and Sports – ERG’s Efforts for Sustainable Venues

ERG is perhaps best known for its work in environmental restoration, mitigation and environmental services. What you may not know is that we are also creating a sustainable, state of the art, sports-based training, research, performance, technology and sports science center. The International Sports Institute (ISI) is being designed using energy efficient low-impact materials which place environmental sustainability at the fore. As part of the development of the project, ERG will employ environmental restoration techniques to lessen the effects of environmental hazards on the project site and will work to reduce environmental stress on sports performance once the ISI is open.

ERG believes sports and environmental protection go hand-in-hand. Today’s athletes suffer from the pollution of our air, land and water from industrial and chemical processes that interfere with performance. The medical literature shows the adverse effects of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, and other pollutants on an athlete’s breathing, especially among asthmatics. Environmental restoration and native plantings absorb environmental pollutants and help improve air quality. The athlete benefits from both a health perspective and an aesthetic, psychological benefit of participating in a clean sports environment.

Sustainability in sports is dependent upon a clean environment. Water pollution prevents successful training for water sports participants and triathletes, including swimming, rowing and surfing. Restoration of environmental quality, through wetland plantings, which filter pollutants from land runoff, can help restore waterways for sports and recreation participants. In the past, Olympic Games have been held in the polluted harbors of Barcelona, Rio de Janiero and Buenos Aires. Recently however, the Olympic movement has begun to set environmental standards for its competitive venues.

In fact, the 2012 Olympics in London has an environmental sustainability plan, including 5 key themes:

1. Climate change: minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring legacy facilities are able to cope with the impacts of climate change.

2. Waste: minimizing waste at every stage of the project, ensuring no waste is sent to landfill during Games-time, and encouraging the development of new waste processing infrastructure in East London.

3. Biodiversity: minimizing the impact of the Games on wildlife and their habitats in and around Games venues, leaving a legacy of enhanced habitats where we can, e.g. the Olympic Park.

4. Inclusion: Promoting access for all and celebrating the diversity of London and the UK, creating new employment, training and business opportunities.

5. Healthy living: Inspiring people across the country to take up sport and develop active, healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

After the Games, the Olympic Park will be transformed into one of the largest urban parks created in Europe for more than 150 years. The new park will be connected to the tidal Thames Estuary to the south and the Hertfordshire countryside to the north. The canals and waterways of the River Lea will be cleaned and widened, and the natural floodplains of the area will be restored to provide a new wetland habitat for wildlife for birdwatchers and ecologists to enjoy. The park will be planted with native species, including oak, ash, willow, birch, hazel, holly, blackthorn and hawthorn, providing a home for wildlife in the middle of the city. The world-class sports facilities will be adapted for use by sports clubs and the local community as well as elite athletes. New playing fields sitting alongside these facilities will be adapted for community use.

Our mission in the development of the ISI is in line with the goals of the Olympic Park.

At ERG, we think linking environmental sustainability and sports makes sense. We’d like to hear your thoughts…

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Conservation Banking – Providing Incentives in New Jersey

Currently, the State of New Jersey allows wetlands mitigation banking through permits and bank instruments issued by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. Conservation banks are not presently permitted, although they should be. Conservation banks are market-based businesses that provide landowners with an incentive to protect species (especially threatened and endangered) and their habitats.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has documented that small or disconnected parcels of habitat do not function as well for species protection as large tracts. Through conservation banks, landowners can generate income and keep large parcels of habitat intact. At the same time, developers, utilities, and transportation agencies need to provide compensation for loss of habitat due to their project and activities. Conservation banks can provide a conservation-based and economically-viable approach to species preservation and restoration in states where there are federally-listed threatened and endangered (T&E) species.

Conservation banking benefits species by establishing large reserves that function as compensatory mitigation for multiple projects. According to the USFWS, it costs less per acre to manage a conservation bank than the equivalent acreage divided amount many small isolated mitigation sites. Larger reserves are more likely to ensure ecosystem functions, foster biodiversity, and provide opportunities for linking existing habitat. This approach can aid in the recovery of T&E species. An example is ERG’s Oxford Wetland Mitigation Bank, which serves as a 166 acre-habitat for the threatened bog turtle, and is adjacent to the existing Pequest Wildlife Management Area. This bank is a wetland mitigation bank, but could easily serve as a conservation bank as well.

Conservation banking benefits the public by protecting open space and contributing to environmental services such as nutrient recycling, plant pollination services, and climate regulation. Conservation works best in conjunction with regional conservation planning efforts; for example, the Oxford Wetland Mitigation bank is in the New Jersey Highlands Regional Planning Area.

In other parts of the United States – particularly in the West – conservation banking has been successful. More than 120 banks have been approved by the USFWS; most of these have been in California and Washington. New Jersey has not established conservation bank and it should relinquish permitting authority to the USFWS for successful conservation banks in this state. Part of the issue here is jurisdictional, the NJDEP limits wetland mitigation banks to watershed management areas within the state, while the USFWS can determine service areas based on an ecological (eco-region) or physical attributes of an area, soil types, species recovery units and/or species and population distributions. Banks can have more than one type of credit and can have different service areas designated for different credits types. The key idea here based on USFWS data is not to encourage development in a listed species habitat, but to provide an ecologically effective alternative to small on-site preservation that is not sustainable.

The NJDEP is currently undergoing a fact finding and stakeholder process in preparation of new freshwater wetlands and coastal zone management rules, including mitigation. Comments for changing the mitigation process in the state to a federal approach and to allow for conservation banking can be submitted to NJDEP:

Mr. Robert B. Piel, NJDEP Office of Land Use Management
501 East Main Street
Mail Code 501-02A
Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Land Use Regulation
P.O. Box 420
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0420

These are our thoughts, what are yours?

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Mitigation for Ecosystem Damage Caused by Coal-Fired Power Plants

It is well documented that coal-fired power plants cause acid rain, which increases the acidity of freshwater lakes, ponds and streams, stressing freshwater ecosystems. It also reduces forest canopy cover and decreases the CO2–absorbing capabilities of plants. In northern New Jersey, acid rain contributes to low pH levels; pH levels lower than 4.5 will not support fish populations in damages. Several NJ waterways are impaired due to low pH. Reducing acid rain will improve this situation.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accepted a petition by NJDEP to force the Pennsylvania GenOn Energy Plant to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The emissions from this plant, located in Pennsylvania, have resulted in a contravention of air quality standards set by the USEPA, and have resulted in pollution disbursement over Northern New Jersey and in particular, Warren County. (This information was determined through extensive air quality modeling by the NJDEP).

The UEPA’s has proposed a rule would require this plant to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 81 percent over a three-year period, greatly reducing future air quality and acid rain problems in New Jersey. However, the proposed rule doesn’t go far enough, in that there is no requirement for past damages to be mitigated.

At ERG, we propose that in addition to cutting future emissions, the Pennsylvania GenOn Energy Plant be required to mitigate by purchasing mitigation credits from NJ mitigation banks to offset the loss of ecosystem services that has occurred to date. Likewise, any other plants that are contributing to the SO2, whether, out of state or in-state, should be required to do the same.

Let us know what you think; better yet, express your views at the upcoming public hearing scheduled for April 27th in Oxford, New Jersey.

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Linking Wetland Mitigation Banking with Environmental Cleanup

Wetland mitigation banks are wetlands streams, or other aquatic resource areas, that have been restored, established, enhanced, or (in certain circumstances) preserved for the purpose of providing compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources permitted under state or local wetland regulations.  In many cases, banks are used to compensate for wetland losses that occur due to development.  The use of a bank becomes necessary when on-site wetlands creation, enhancement or restoration is not practical or that the on-site restoration will not result in sustainable, biologically functional wetland ecosystems. 

Mitigation banks can be successful in that they are generally large tracts of land that can support an ecological biodiversity that is necessary for the successful restoration, creation, and enhancement of wetlands.  In that respect, they will provide the necessary wetlands functions and habitat for threatened and endangered species long after the mitigation banks credits are sold. 

In the case of ERG‘s Oxford Wetland Mitigation bank, the opportunities are two-fold.  The bank will sell credits to meet wetland mitigation needs of a variety of user groups, both private and public and at the same time, credit sales will provide funding for the cleanup of an adjacent brownfield site.  Ultimately, the Oxford bank will be a restored wetland, habitat for threatened and endangered species and a successful brownfield remediation. 

Linking mitigation banking with habitat restoration and environmental cleanups should be a policy that the nation and individual states should encourage.  State policies and regulations should be reviewed and amended to allow for greater use of banks and bank credits for brownfield remediation; flood hazard area mitigation; Natural Resources Damages Act (NRDA) compensation and stream buffer restoration.  These changes to policies and regulations would encourage more private sector investment in mitigation banks and result in ecosystem protection and open/natural resource space preservation during a time of decreasing state revenues for environmental preservation and open space acquisition projects.

In the long term, expansion of mitigation banking opportunities is an economically, environmentally and socially beneficial system for the restoration and ecological success of national resource areas and sustainable ecosystems.  Your thoughts?

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