An Associated Press story on October 28 alarmed me. The first paragraph sounded good: “Maine is launching a new program to help pay for conservation work that benefits Atlantic salmon. The money will come from fees for road and bridge projects.”
But the third paragraph raised an alarm. It reported, “the program will allow public and private organizations working on road and bridge projects to pay a fee in lieu of environmental mitigation efforts that are required by law, the department said.”
I wondered what mitigation efforts would be ignored, in favor of collecting money for salmon projects, so I emailed some questions to Pat Keliher, Marine Resources Department Commissioner. Jeff Nichols, the department’s communications director, got back to me very quickly with a response. Here is what Jeff told me, labeling the news report a misunderstanding:
I understand you read the AP piece in the weekend Press Herald written by Patrick Whittle, which leaves out an important detail – that this is an In-Lieu Fee Program (ILF), and ILF Programs were established in 2008 through federal regulation as an instrument of the Army Corps of Engineers to allow Corps permittees to compensate for impacts of their projects which, after all required steps have been taken to avoid or minimize damage to wetlands or aquatic resources, remain unavoidable. Permitees must still comply with all applicable laws but this program provides an option for them to contribute to salmon restoration in parts of the state with historic Atlantic salmon populations.
As background, mitigating adverse impacts to aquatic resource is an integral part of the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. Mitigation is a process that includes avoiding adverse impacts to resources, minimizing impacts that cannot practicably be avoided, and then compensating for those impacts that cannot be further minimized through what’s known as Compensatory Mitigation. There are different options available to satisfy Compensatory Mitigation requirements, including in-lieu fee programs. An in-lieu fee program is a program involving the restoration, establishment, enhancement, and/or preservation of resources through funds paid to the sponsor to satisfy Compensatory Mitigation requirements of permitting agencies.
I want to thank Jeff for getting back to me quickly. I have in the past questioned the value of the hundreds of millions of dollars we have spent trying to restore Atlantic salmon to Maine’s rivers, a largely unsuccessful project. And of course we are prohibited from fishing for the salmon so they are doing nothing for our economy.
It will be interesting to see if this new funding makes any kind of a difference in the state’s effort to restore Atlantic salmon. The Associated Press story reported that the money will be used for projects with a “high probability of improving habitat and recovery for Atlantic salmon.”