November 10, 2000
TO: Subcommittee on Farmland and Open Space \ N.C. Legislative Smart Growth Commission
Kate Dixon, Executive Director, Triangle Land Conservancy
George Howard, President, Restoration Systems, Inc.
RE: Mitigation Banking for Open Space
The Triangle Land Conservancy and Restoration Systems (a private mitigation company) believe that Open Space Mitigation Banks could be a useful tool in efforts to protect Open Space in the Triangle and the state. We urge the Subcommittee on Farmland and Open Space to study mitigation banks as a tool for open space protection, and we recommend that the State enact legislation to give counties and municipalities authority to operate mitigation banks. We have therefore put together the following briefing memo to outline how we think such a program might help local governments in North Carolina protect important open space for their citizens.
What is "Mitigation Banking"?
Mitigation Banking is an innovative approach currently used to off-set losses to wetlands and endangered species. Mitigation banks work by requiring anyone who destroys wetlands or endangered species habitat to create, restore and protect wetlands or habitat elsewhere. Such programs can be extended to mitigate for other types of open space, such as stream buffers, places for people to hike and hunt, and farmland. Mitigation Banking for Open Space would use the same principles as current programs to off-set impacts to our surroundings by protecting large areas with ecological, aesthetic and recreational importance in regional banks.
How would an Open Space Mitigation Bank work?
Developers of raw land would be required by local governments to protect a certain number of acres of "mitigation land" for every acre of land that they develop. Local governments would establish guidelines for the amount, location and nature of land that qualifies for protection. In addition, guarantees would be required to ensure that the land will be permanently protected. Developers may then approach landowners to buy land and donate the required number of acres to the local government or land trust according to the pre-established guidelines. Alternatively, a land trust or private firm (like Restoration Systems) may buy large tracts of land ahead of time and sell mitigation credits for the required number of acres to the developer. Local governments will need to establish a system, either through conservation easements or registration, which ensures that credits are not sold from the same land more than once.
What are the benefits of this system relative to current methods of conservation?
Mitigation banking is fair because it asks developers to help cover the broader community costs associated with their development, including loss of wildlife habitat, places for people to enjoy the outdoors, and water quality. Mitigation banking creates market incentives to reduce the amount of land impacted by development. The concept behind mitigation banking is easy to understand. Mitigation banking can avoid the not-in-my-backyard fights against increased density or down-zoning which have occurred in communities which try transfer of development rights programs.
What is a county-specific example of how a mitigation bank might work?
We have discussed the concept of mitigation banking with a county commissioner, the planning director, and a prominent developer in Chatham County. All were supportive of the concept. Unlike most counties, Chatham has received statutory authority from the State Legislature to establish mitigation programs. We plan to make a presentation to the Chatham Commissioners about how it might establish a mitigation banking program for open space. Here is an example of how such a program might work: