Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Permit to Drain Wetlands about to Dry Up

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Permit to Drain Wetlands about to Dry Up

Article excerpt

Under pressure from the White House and environmentalists, the Army Corps of Engineers has decided to phase out a federal permit that has allowed the development of thousands of acres of wetlands.

The move, which is to be formally announced this week, is the most significant tightening of wetlands regulations in at least a decade. Just a year ago, congressional Republicans tried unsuccessfully to weaken laws protecting millions of acres of swamps, marshes and fens.

Environmentalists say the change could help stem a shrinking of the nation's wetlands, now vanishing at a rate of 70,000 acres a year. Wetlands help purify water supplies, prevent floods and protect endangered animals and plants. But builders, farmers and other groups that develop wetlands say the tightened standards will mean additional costs, red tape and delays that could tie up projects for months or even years. "People will be fuming," said Clark Wright, a lawyer in New Bern, N.C., who has represented builders and corporations on issues related to wetlands. "This is a huge change to the status quo." According to officials familiar with the new standards, the corps will impose restrictions on a class of general permits called "nationwides," which let landowners drain small wetlands areas for specific purposes. Normally, anyone who intends to disturb a wetlands must obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that oversees dredging and filling in waterways. But one of the nationwide permits, called Nationwide 26, allows owners to bypass the usual review and obtain virtually instant approval for draining from 1 to 10 acres. For smaller projects, the owner doesn't have to tell anyone of such plans. But that exclusion would be narrowed substantially. Beginning in January, Nationwide 26 would apply only to projects that affect less than three acres of wetlands. …

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