By Kelly Jackson
Chattanooga Times Dalton Bureau
DALTON, Ga. -- On property off Tilton Road in southern Whitfield County, an intermittent stream meanders through a field bordering the Conasauga River.
"You can imagine (that) literally this was just a big muddy pond; the cows would walk in and out of it to drink," said Norman Barashick, executive director of the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Management Authority.
That was before the authority's restoration efforts as part of its mitigation bank program. The drainage area that once was a cow pond is now a flowing stream. Around the stream are native plants and trees that will one day keep secret its very existence.
"The overall goal of this project is natural growth," said Dirk Verhoeff, environmental manager with the authority. "We're supposed to help it along, but in time it's going to take care of itself."
The authority owns and operates the Conasauga River Mitigation Bank, established in June 2005. Through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mitigation bank program, independent agencies can preserve and restore streams and wetlands in exchange for credits. Those credits can be sold to developers whose projects will impact streams and/or wetlands.
Mr. Verhoeff said that to qualify for the mitigation bank, a project must include at least 50 percent restoration.
Alan Miller, a section permits chief with the Corps of Engineers' Savannah District, said developers whose projects affect wetlands can mitigate the impacts on or off-site, buy credits from a land bank to offset the impacts or pay an in-lieu fee to the Georgia Land Trust to buy aquatic resources.
Mr. Miller said the mitigation bank program, which was created about 15 years ago, is "very robust" in Georgia. There are about 60 active banks across the state.
Mr. Barashick said the Corps of Engineers determines how many credits a mitigation bank has and how many credits a developer will need to offset an impact.
The officials said the total number of credits for any given bank is a proprietary secret and the value can't be assessed because it fluctuates.
County Commission Chairman Mike Babb, who is also an authority board member, said local governments benefit from having credits available. He said the city and county have purchased credits for development.
Commissioner Mike Cowan said the local mitigation bank is "win-win."
"You have to make the improvements to the environment to be qualified to receive the credit, so just the fact that you're improving the environment is a positive," he said.
FISH SPECIES FOUND IN STREAM RESTORATIONS:
- Green sunfish
- Red shiner
- Golden shiner
- Bullhead minnow
- Creek chub
- Eastern mosquitofish
RIVER MITIGATION BANK:
- 3 tracts of property, about 120 acres
- 200-foot riparian corridor preserved or restored along about 2 miles of the Conasauga River
- 150-foot riparian corridor preserved or restored along both sides of about 2 miles of existing and constructed waterways
- 3,700 linear feet of stream restoration
- To date the authority has sold about 20 percent of potential credits for about $1 million.
- The bank's primary service area consists of four watersheds within the Coosa River Basin. This includes portions of Bartow, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Murray, Pickens, Polk, Walker and Whitfield counties.
Sources: Dirk Verhoeff, Norman Barashick
ON THE WEB:
Learn more about the mitigation bank program at www.sas.usace.army.mil.