Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mitigation Mediation Misses the Point

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mitigation Mediation Misses the Point

Article excerpt

COMMENTARY

Wetland mitigation projects, as I long understood the term, involve major restoration of damaged or destroyed swamplands or estuaries and the like, to restore water flow and some semblance of natural function.

Though the wisdom of particular deals is often highly debatable, such restoration projects have often been done at a developer's expense as part of a trade. In return, state or local government allows the developer to do environmental damage elsewhere, usually by destroying part of some other wetland that is perhaps smaller or otherwise deemed, by someone, to be less important.

Mitigation fans argue that there is a net gain for the environment, if government agencies drive a hard enough bargain. But they need to make sure each restoration project is large enough and well done, and that it succeeds at bringing swamps and estuaries back as functional and self-sustaining habitats for fish and wildlife.

Critics and skeptics say that is too often not achieved, and that, anyway, such restoration projects should be done without deals that allow other environmentally sensitive lands to be wrecked.

But the deal that the Sarasota County commissioners made to pave the way for a Whole Foods grocery store and WaWa convenience store on Honore Avenue, just south of University Parkway, was, as you may now know, odder than usual.

The decision to allow the total destruction of a long-protected 4.5-acre wooded swamp to accommodate a parking lot was an unpleasant surprise to some local environmentalists, only in part because the mitigation project offered in return wasn't in the same county. It was in Manatee County. Nothing about the mitigation site sounded like it would entice Sarasota County commissioners with visions of a local restoration project to point to as a worthy swap.

But as reporter Emily LeCoz revealed in Sunday's Herald-Tribune, that wasn't the half of why this mitigation deal looks really bad.

Turns out the land in Manatee doesn't need much in the way of restoration. …

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