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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Office of the Secretary, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC 20590

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Federal Highway Administration 24-03
Friday, July 11, 2003
Contact: Lori Irving, 202-366-0660

Federal Agencies Advance Wetlands Protection and Transportation Goals

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) today joined with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue new guidance that will help ensure the effective replacement of wetlands affected by Federal-aid highway projects and improve regulatory decision-making in the permit process.

"We're pleased to be part of fulfilling the first action item in the Bush Administration's wetlands mitigation action plan that helps preserve the environment," said FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters. "This guidance will lead to greater understanding between the agencies and simplify the way we mitigate a project's impact on wetlands."

EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, G. Tracy Mehan III, said, "This guidance further supports market-based approaches to achieving the best environmental results for aquatic resource protection."

"This action is consistent with the Corps' Environmental Operating Principles," added Maj. Gen. Robert H. Griffin, Director of the Civil Works Program. "The preference for mitigation banking ensures timely permit decisions. This represents a win-win approach to balancing critical infrastructure needs with the preservation of valuable aquatic resources."

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century established a preference for mitigation banking to compensate for unavoidable losses to wetlands or other natural habitat caused by transportation projects receiving federal assistance.

Mitigation banking is a system for balancing wetland losses against wetland gains. In this process, wetlands are restored, improved, or created by cooperative efforts, usually with pooled funds - wetlands banking projects are eligible for federal funding support. The "bank" holding the funds has an account manager - often an inter-agency committee - that determines wetland "credits" based on the quality or capacity of the newly-created or restored wetlands.

The preference relates to the eligibility of federal-aid funds for wetland compensatory mitigation under the National Highway System and the Surface Transportation Program. The guidance announced today will help agency field personnel and the sponsors of federal-aid highway projects by clarifying the factors to be considered in implementing that preference.

The National Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan affirms the Bush Administration's commitment to the goal of "no net loss" of the nation's wetlands. It outlines a series of steps to be taken over three years to improve mitigation site selection, ensure more effective performance monitoring, and develop interagency mitigation databases which accurately reflect the performance of compensatory mitigation sites. The period for this series of steps began in December.

The action plan focuses on achieving these objectives through the efforts of several government programs, including the Clean Water Act Section 404 program and various non-regulatory and private initiatives. The action plan also emphasizes a watershed approach to mitigation based on replacement of impacted or lost aquatic functions and values.

The action plan commits the agencies to develop additional guidance to provide better mitigation decisions, such as considerations for on-site instead of off-site and in-kind instead of out-of-kind mitigation by the end of 2003, and the appropriate use of vegetated buffers and preservation by 2004.

The guidance, formally known as, "Federal Guidance on the Use of the TEA-21 Preference for Mitigation Banking to fulfill Mitigation Requirements under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act," is available on the Federal Highway Administration web site at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/wetland/wet_guid.htm

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