Kennedy Space Center plans mitigation bank to compensate for loss of wetlands

The Kennedy Space Center is not a place that comes to mind when it comes to environmental conservation. Often times, the center has been the target of angry environmentalists who fight NASA’s plans to build more launch pads at the expense of the unique habitat that surrounds America’s main spaceport.

But the NASA center recently identified three strips of land, totaling 134 acres, that it plans to set aside to compensate for the wetlands it will need to fill or destroy in the coming years so the agency can continue its mission. domination of space. .

NASA offers three wetland mitigation sites totaling 134 acres.

Setting aside land to compensate for habitat destruction due to ongoing development is known as the Mitigation Bank, and the move marks KSC’s first foray into practice.

Mitigation banking works by restoring or preserving tracts of land to compensate for the loss of habitat critical to building homes, businesses, roads, and other developments. When land is restored or preserved, the mitigation bank sells or issues ‘credits’ to the developing entity to enable it to develop other areas so that there is a zero sum gain for the impact. on the environment.

Mitigation banks are a compromise that the federal government has allowed since the 1980s to ensure “no net loss” of wetlands during new construction. However, some environmentalists say the system has been played around for decades by developers because the restored wetlands in mitigation banks are often not of the same quality and diversity as destroyed wetlands.

NASA, however, says KSC’s mitigation bank will improve fish and wildlife habitat on the land it shares with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and in the Indian River Lagoon watershed.

Wetland mitigation banks are established by creating, restoring or enhancing wetlands. The landowner – in this case the federal government – maintains limited, low-impact uses of the property, but conservation easements protect wetlands or other important habitat from harmful activities such as construction and paving.

A bird lives dangerously at the Kennedy Space Center.  Alligators are also known to eat sharks that strike them at the space center.

The size and extent of the wetland restoration, creation or improvements determine the amount of credits available for sale. Developers and others buy credits from wetland mitigation banks – usually as close as possible in the same area – to offset the impact of wetlands lost as a result of their construction activities.

KSC expects significant future development to support the growth of private enterprises and its vision of a multi-user spaceport. KSC estimates that future development could result in more than 500 acres of wetland impacts, according to a draft prospectus for the Mitigation Bank. Because the scope of development could exceed available credits, NASA says KSC needs its own mitigation bank.

Currently, Kennedy’s Federal Mitigation Bank would only be available to NASA, not developers, KSC officials said. The Merritt Island Nation Wildlife Sanctuary would manage the three mitigation bank sites, which would not be open to the public for recreational purposes.

To restore tidal marshes in former mosquito reservoirs within the mitigation bank, NASA plans to remove dredged material, exotic vegetation, dykes and dikes, according to a draft prospectus for the bank .

The federal agency issues permits for mitigation banks and approves the number of credits that the entities that manage the banks can sell, depending on the quality, size and extent of habitat in the area. form the bank.

The entire process is overseen by the US Army Corps of Engineers, but other federal and state wildlife and environmental agencies may step in, depending on the type of mitigation bank.

“NASA Kennedy is seeking to ensure the availability of compensatory mitigation to support future NASA projects,” wrote Jeff Collins, NASA environmental protection specialist, in response to questions from FLORIDA TODAY as to why from KSC for the mitigation bank. “Ultimately, NASA’s goal is to ensure the availability of mitigation measures and the environmental resource authorization process, with the ultimate goal of securing NASA’s access to space.

“The tenants of NASA Kennedy are responsible for finding and providing their own compensatory mitigation for wetland impacts resulting from their projects,” he added.

KSC’s bank would begin once the Corps permitted, along with the St. Johns River Water Management District, which would allow the site as an off-site regional mitigation area. This water management request had not yet been submitted by December 13. Authorization can take several months.

The proposed “Umbrella Mitigation Bank” includes three separate sites, including 75 acres on Static Test Road, 33 acres of abandoned citrus grove west of Kennedy Parkway South, and west of Florida Power’s solar farm. & Light; and 27 acres of abandoned citrus grove east of Kennedy Parkway South on East Crisafulli Road.

Learn more about it: Lockheed mitigation bank near cocoa wells?

KSC’s mitigation bank would be set up and operated by the space center as a sponsor with the help of engineering firm Jones Edmunds.

According to the Corps’ public permit notice, the federal agency determined that the proposed project “could affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the following species: piping plover; American crocodile; Eastern black rail; manatees; red knot; Oriental indigo snake; Florida jay; green sea turtle; Everglade snail kite; pick with red cockade; sea ​​turtles; the Atlantic salt marsh snake; Southeast Beach Mouse; storks of wood; and Audubon’s crested caracara.

KSC, in partnership with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, has identified potential sites for the mitigation bank on the 140,000 acres they share.

Collins said the three proposed sites are dominated by Brazilian pepper trees and other “exotic / pest” vegetation.

“NASA does not have the capacity to sell mitigation credits to tenants and keep those dollars,” Collins said.

“NASA is not in the compensatory mitigation business, and NASA is not in competition with existing / future federal mitigation banks,” he said.

No net loss of wetlands? Not in Brevard County

Despite the federal government’s wetland mitigation policy goal of “no net loss” for decades, birds are finding less natural wetland space on the Space Coast than 20 years ago. According to data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (C-CAP) Coastal Change Analysis Program’s Regional Land Cover Database:

  • Between 1996 and 2016, nearly 19 square miles of wetlands in Brevard were lost to development, a loss of about 3%, leaving about 542 square miles of wetlands.
  • Meanwhile, open water increased 11.5 square miles, or 2.2%, to a total of 535.4 square miles, as more man-made ponds in housing estates replaced natural wetlands.

Jim Waymer is an environmental journalist at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Waymer at 321-261-5903 or [email protected] Or find him on Twitter: @JWayEnviro or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jim.waymer

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