33 CFR 332.3 - General compensatory mitigation requirements.
(a) General considerations.
(1) The fundamental objective of compensatory mitigation is to offset environmental losses resulting from unavoidable impacts to waters of the United States authorized by DA permits. The district engineer must determine the compensatory mitigation to be required in a DA permit, based on what is practicable and capable of compensating for the aquatic resource functions that will be lost as a result of the permitted activity. When evaluating compensatory mitigation options, the district engineer will consider what would be environmentally preferable. In making this determination, the district engineer must assess the likelihood for ecological success and sustainability, the location of the compensation site relative to the impact site and their significance within the watershed, and the costs of the compensatory mitigation project. In many cases, the environmentally preferable compensatory mitigation may be provided through mitigation banks or in-lieu fee programs because they usually involve consolidating compensatory mitigation projects where ecologically appropriate, consolidating resources, providing financial planning and scientific expertise (which often is not practical for permittee-responsible compensatory mitigation projects), reducing temporal losses of functions, and reducing uncertainty over project success. Compensatory mitigation requirements must be commensurate with the amount and type of impact that is associated with a particular DA permit. Permit applicants are responsible for proposing an appropriate compensatory mitigation option to offset unavoidable impacts.
(2) Compensatory mitigation may be performed using the methods of restoration, enhancement, establishment, and in certain circumstances preservation. Restoration should generally be the first option considered because the likelihood of success is greater and the impacts to potentially ecologically important uplands are reduced compared to establishment, and the potential gains in terms of aquatic resource functions are greater, compared to enhancement and preservation.
(3) Compensatory mitigation projects may be sited on public or private lands. Credits for compensatory mitigation projects on public land must be based solely on aquatic resource functions provided by the compensatory mitigation project, over and above those provided by public programs already planned or in place. All compensatory mitigation projects must comply with the standards in this part, if they are to be used to provide compensatory mitigation for activities authorized by DA permits, regardless of whether they are sited on public or private lands and whether the sponsor is a governmental or private entity.
(b) Type and location of compensatory mitigation.
(1) When considering options for successfully providing the required compensatory mitigation, the district engineer shall consider the type and location options in the order presented in paragraphs (b)(2) through (b)(6) of this section. In general, the required compensatory mitigation should be located within the same watershed as the impact site, and should be located where it is most likely to successfully replace lost functions and services, taking into account such watershed scale features as aquatic habitat diversity, habitat connectivity, relationships to hydrologic sources (including the availability of water rights), trends in land use, ecological benefits, and compatibility with adjacent land uses. When compensating for impacts to marine resources, the location of the compensatory mitigation site should be chosen to replace lost functions and services within the same marine ecological system (e.g., reef complex, littoral drift cell). Compensation for impacts to aquatic resources in coastal watersheds (watersheds that include a tidal water body) should also be located in a coastal watershed where practicable. Compensatory mitigation projects should not be located where they will increase risks to aviation by attracting wildlife to areas where aircraft-wildlife strikes may occur (e.g., near airports).
(2) Mitigation bank credits. When permitted impacts are located within the service area of an approved mitigation bank, and the bank has the appropriate number and resource type of credits available, the permittee's compensatory mitigation requirements may be met by securing those credits from the sponsor. Since an approved instrument (including an approved mitigation plan and appropriate real estate and financial assurances) for a mitigation bank is required to be in place before its credits can begin to be used to compensate for authorized impacts, use of a mitigation bank can help reduce risk and uncertainty, as well as temporal loss of resource functions and services. Mitigation bank credits are not released for debiting until specific milestones associated with the mitigation bank site's protection and development are achieved, thus use of mitigation bank credits can also help reduce risk that mitigation will not be fully successful. Mitigation banks typically involve larger, more ecologically valuable parcels, and more rigorous scientific and technical analysis, planning and implementation than permittee-responsible mitigation. Also, development of a mitigation bank requires site identification in advance, project-specific planning, and significant investment of financial resources that is often not practicable for many in-lieu fee programs. For these reasons, the district engineer should give preference to the use of mitigation bank credits when these considerations are applicable. However, these same considerations may also be used to override this preference, where appropriate, as, for example, where an in-lieu fee program has released credits available from a specific approved in-lieu fee project, or a permittee-responsible project will restore an outstanding resource based on rigorous scientific and technical analysis.
(3) In-lieu fee program credits. Where permitted impacts are located within the service area of an approved in-lieu fee program, and the sponsor has the appropriate number and resource type of credits available, the permittee's compensatory mitigation requirements may be met by securing those credits from the sponsor. Where permitted impacts are not located in the service area of an approved mitigation bank, or the approved mitigation bank does not have the appropriate number and resource type of credits available to offset those impacts, in-lieu fee mitigation, if available, is generally preferable to permittee-responsible mitigation. In-lieu fee projects typically involve larger, more ecologically valuable parcels, and more rigorous scientific and technical analysis, planning and implementation than permittee-responsible mitigation. They also devote significant resources to identifying and addressing high-priority resource needs on a watershed scale, as reflected in their compensation planning framework. For these reasons, the district engineer should give preference to in-lieu fee program credits over permittee-responsible mitigation, where these considerations are applicable. However, as with the preference for mitigation bank credits, these same considerations may be used to override this preference where appropriate. Additionally, in cases where permittee-responsible mitigation is likely to successfully meet performance standards before advance credits secured from an in-lieu fee program are fulfilled, the district engineer should also give consideration to this factor in deciding between in-lieu fee mitigation and permittee-responsible mitigation.
(4) Permittee-responsible mitigation under a watershed approach. Where permitted impacts are not in the service area of an approved mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program that has the appropriate number and resource type of credits available, permittee-responsible mitigation is the only option. Where practicable and likely to be successful and sustainable, the resource type and location for the required permittee-responsible compensatory mitigation should be determined using the principles of a watershed approach as outlined in paragraph (c) of this section.
(5) Permittee-responsible mitigation through on-site and in-kind mitigation. In cases where a watershed approach is not practicable, the district engineer should consider opportunities to offset anticipated aquatic resource impacts by requiring on-site and in-kind compensatory mitigation. The district engineer must also consider the practicability of on-site compensatory mitigation and its compatibility with the proposed project.
(6) Permittee-responsible mitigation through off-site and/or out-of-kind mitigation. If, after considering opportunities for on-site, in-kind compensatory mitigation as provided in paragraph (b)(5) of this section, the district engineer determines that these compensatory mitigation opportunities are not practicable, are unlikely to compensate for the permitted impacts, or will be incompatible with the proposed project, and an alternative, practicable off-site and/or out-of-kind mitigation opportunity is identified that has a greater likelihood of offsetting the permitted impacts or is environmentally preferable to on-site or in-kind mitigation, the district engineer should require that this alternative compensatory mitigation be provided.
(c) Watershed approach to compensatory mitigation.
(1) The district engineer must use a watershed approach to establish compensatory mitigation requirements in DA permits to the extent appropriate and practicable. Where a watershed plan is available, the district engineer will determine whether the plan is appropriate for use in the watershed approach for compensatory mitigation. In cases where the district engineer determines that an appropriate watershed plan is available, the watershed approach should be based on that plan. Where no such plan is available, the watershed approach should be based on information provided by the project sponsor or available from other sources. The ultimate goal of a watershed approach is to maintain and improve the quality and quantity of aquatic resources within watersheds through strategic selection of compensatory mitigation sites.
(i) A watershed approach to compensatory mitigation considers the importance of landscape position and resource type of compensatory mitigation projects for the sustainability of aquatic resource functions within the watershed. Such an approach considers how the types and locations of compensatory mitigation projects will provide the desired aquatic resource functions, and will continue to function over time in a changing landscape. It also considers the habitat requirements of important species, habitat loss or conversion trends, sources of watershed impairment, and current development trends, as well as the requirements of other regulatory and non-regulatory programs that affect the watershed, such as storm water management or habitat conservation programs. It includes the protection and maintenance of terrestrial resources, such as non-wetland riparian areas and uplands, when those resources contribute to or improve the overall ecological functioning of aquatic resources in the watershed. Compensatory mitigation requirements determined through the watershed approach should not focus exclusively on specific functions (e.g., water quality or habitat for certain species), but should provide, where practicable, the suite of functions typically provided by the affected aquatic resource.
(ii) Locational factors (e.g., hydrology, surrounding land use) are important to the success of compensatory mitigation for impacted habitat functions and may lead to siting of such mitigation away from the project area. However, consideration should also be given to functions and services (e.g., water quality, flood control, shoreline protection) that will likely need to be addressed at or near the areas impacted by the permitted impacts.
(iii) A watershed approach may include on-site compensatory mitigation, off-site compensatory mitigation (including mitigation banks or in-lieu fee programs), or a combination of on-site and off-site compensatory mitigation.
(iv) A watershed approach to compensatory mitigation should include, to the extent practicable, inventories of historic and existing aquatic resources, including identification of degraded aquatic resources, and identification of immediate and long-term aquatic resource needs within watersheds that can be met through permittee-responsible mitigation projects, mitigation banks, or in-lieu fee programs. Planning efforts should identify and prioritize aquatic resource restoration, establishment, and enhancement activities, and preservation of existing aquatic resources that are important for maintaining or improving ecological functions of the watershed. The identification and prioritization of resource needs should be as specific as possible, to enhance the usefulness of the approach in determining compensatory mitigation requirements.
(v) A watershed approach is not appropriate in areas where watershed boundaries do not exist, such as marine areas. In such cases, an appropriate spatial scale should be used to replace lost functions and services within the same ecological system (e.g., reef complex, littoral drift cell).
(3) Information needs.
(i) In the absence of a watershed plan determined by the district engineer under paragraph (c)(1) of this section to be appropriate for use in the watershed approach, the district engineer will use a watershed approach based on analysis of information regarding watershed conditions and needs, including potential sites for aquatic resource restoration activities and priorities for aquatic resource restoration and preservation. Such information includes: current trends in habitat loss or conversion; cumulative impacts of past development activities, current development trends, the presence and needs of sensitive species; site conditions that favor or hinder the success of compensatory mitigation projects; and chronic environmental problems such as flooding or poor water quality.
(ii) This information may be available from sources such as wetland maps; soil surveys; U.S. Geological Survey topographic and hydrologic maps; aerial photographs; information on rare, endangered and threatened species and critical habitat; local ecological reports or studies; and other information sources that could be used to identify locations for suitable compensatory mitigation projects in the watershed.
(iii) The level of information and analysis needed to support a watershed approach must be commensurate with the scope and scale of the proposed impacts requiring a DA permit, as well as the functions lost as a result of those impacts.
(4) Watershed scale. The size of watershed addressed using a watershed approach should not be larger than is appropriate to ensure that the aquatic resources provided through compensation activities will effectively compensate for adverse environmental impacts resulting from activities authorized by DA permits. The district engineer should consider relevant environmental factors and appropriate locally developed standards and criteria when determining the appropriate watershed scale in guiding compensation activities.
(d) Site selection.
(1) The compensatory mitigation project site must be ecologically suitable for providing the desired aquatic resource functions. In determining the ecological suitability of the compensatory mitigation project site, the district engineer must consider, to the extent practicable, the following factors:
(i) Hydrological conditions, soil characteristics, and other physical and chemical characteristics;
(ii) Watershed-scale features, such as aquatic habitat diversity, habitat connectivity, and other landscape scale functions;
(iii) The size and location of the compensatory mitigation site relative to hydrologic sources (including the availability of water rights) and other ecological features;
(iv) Compatibility with adjacent land uses and watershed management plans;
(v) Reasonably foreseeable effects the compensatory mitigation project will have on ecologically important aquatic or terrestrial resources (e.g., shallow sub-tidal habitat, mature forests), cultural sites, or habitat for federally- or state-listed threatened and endangered species; and
(vi) Other relevant factors including, but not limited to, development trends, anticipated land use changes, habitat status and trends, the relative locations of the impact and mitigation sites in the stream network, local or regional goals for the restoration or protection of particular habitat types or functions (e.g., re-establishment of habitat corridors or habitat for species of concern), water quality goals, floodplain management goals, and the relative potential for chemical contamination of the aquatic resources.
(2) District engineers may require on-site, off-site, or a combination of on-site and off-site compensatory mitigation to replace permitted losses of aquatic resource functions and services.
(3) Applicants should propose compensation sites adjacent to existing aquatic resources or where aquatic resources previously existed.
(e) Mitigation type.
(1) In general, in-kind mitigation is preferable to out-of-kind mitigation because it is most likely to compensate for the functions and services lost at the impact site. For example, tidal wetland compensatory mitigation projects are most likely to compensate for unavoidable impacts to tidal wetlands, while perennial stream compensatory mitigation projects are most likely to compensate for unavoidable impacts to perennial streams. Thus, except as provided in paragraph (e)(2) of this section, the required compensatory mitigation shall be of a similar type to the affected aquatic resource.
(2) If the district engineer determines, using the watershed approach in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section that out-of-kind compensatory mitigation will serve the aquatic resource needs of the watershed, the district engineer may authorize the use of such out-of-kind compensatory mitigation. The basis for authorization of out-of-kind compensatory mitigation must be documented in the administrative record for the permit action.
(3) For difficult-to-replace resources (e.g., bogs, fens, springs, streams, Atlantic white cedar swamps) if further avoidance and minimization is not practicable, the required compensation should be provided, if practicable, through in-kind rehabilitation, enhancement, or preservation since there is greater certainty that these methods of compensation will successfully offset permitted impacts.
(f) Amount of compensatory mitigation.
(1) If the district engineer determines that compensatory mitigation is necessary to offset unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, the amount of required compensatory mitigation must be, to the extent practicable, sufficient to replace lost aquatic resource functions. In cases where appropriate functional or condition assessment methods or other suitable metrics are available, these methods should be used where practicable to determine how much compensatory mitigation is required. If a functional or condition assessment or other suitable metric is not used, a minimum one-to-one acreage or linear foot compensation ratio must be used.
(2) The district engineer must require a mitigation ratio greater than one-to-one where necessary to account for the method of compensatory mitigation (e.g., preservation), the likelihood of success, differences between the functions lost at the impact site and the functions expected to be produced by the compensatory mitigation project, temporal losses of aquatic resource functions, the difficulty of restoring or establishing the desired aquatic resource type and functions, and/or the distance between the affected aquatic resource and the compensation site. The rationale for the required replacement ratio must be documented in the administrative record for the permit action.
(3) If an in-lieu fee program will be used to provide the required compensatory mitigation, and the appropriate number and resource type of released credits are not available, the district engineer must require sufficient compensation to account for the risk and uncertainty associated with in-lieu fee projects that have not been implemented before the permitted impacts have occurred.
(g) Use of mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs. Mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs may be used to compensate for impacts to aquatic resources authorized by general permits and individual permits, including after-the-fact permits, in accordance with the preference hierarchy in paragraph (b) of this section.
(1) Preservation may be used to provide compensatory mitigation for activities authorized by DA permits when all the following criteria are met:
(i) The resources to be preserved provide important physical, chemical, or biological functions for the watershed;
(ii) The resources to be preserved contribute significantly to the ecological sustainability of the watershed. In determining the contribution of those resources to the ecological sustainability of the watershed, the district engineer must use appropriate quantitative assessment tools, where available;
(iii) Preservation is determined by the district engineer to be appropriate and practicable;
(iv) The resources are under threat of destruction or adverse modifications; and
(v) The preserved site will be permanently protected through an appropriate real estate or other legal instrument (e.g., easement, title transfer to state resource agency or land trust).
(2) Where preservation is used to provide compensatory mitigation, to the extent appropriate and practicable the preservation shall be done in conjunction with aquatic resource restoration, establishment, and/or enhancement activities. This requirement may be waived by the district engineer where preservation has been identified as a high priority using a watershed approach described in paragraph (c) of this section, but compensation ratios shall be higher.
(i) Buffers. District engineers may require the restoration, establishment, enhancement, and preservation, as well as the maintenance, of riparian areas and/or buffers around aquatic resources where necessary to ensure the long-term viability of those resources. Buffers may also provide habitat or corridors necessary for the ecological functioning of aquatic resources. If buffers are required by the district engineer as part of the compensatory mitigation project, compensatory mitigation credit will be provided for those buffers.
(j) Relationship to other federal, tribal, state, and local programs.
(1) Compensatory mitigation projects for DA permits may also be used to satisfy the environmental requirements of other programs, such as tribal, state, or local wetlands regulatory programs, other federal programs such as the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Corps civil works projects, and Department of Defense military construction projects, consistent with the terms and requirements of these programs and subject to the following considerations:
(i) The compensatory mitigation project must include appropriate compensation required by the DA permit for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources authorized by that permit.
(ii) Under no circumstances may the same credits be used to provide mitigation for more than one permitted activity. However, where appropriate, compensatory mitigation projects, including mitigation banks and in-lieu fee projects, may be designed to holistically address requirements under multiple programs and authorities for the same activity.
(2) Except for projects undertaken by federal agencies, or where federal funding is specifically authorized to provide compensatory mitigation, federally-funded aquatic resource restoration or conservation projects undertaken for purposes other than compensatory mitigation, such as the Wetlands Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Program, and Partners for Wildlife Program activities, cannot be used for the purpose of generating compensatory mitigation credits for activities authorized by DA permits. However, compensatory mitigation credits may be generated by activities undertaken in conjunction with, but supplemental to, such programs in order to maximize the overall ecological benefits of the restoration or conservation project.
(3) Compensatory mitigation projects may also be used to provide compensatory mitigation under the Endangered Species Act or for Habitat Conservation Plans, as long as they comply with the requirements of paragraph (j)(1) of this section.
(k) Permit conditions.
(1) The compensatory mitigation requirements for a DA permit, including the amount and type of compensatory mitigation, must be clearly stated in the special conditions of the individual permit or general permit verification (see 33 CFR 325.4 and 330.6(a)). The special conditions must be enforceable.
(2) For an individual permit that requires permittee-responsible mitigation, the special conditions must:
(i) Identify the party responsible for providing the compensatory mitigation;
(ii) Incorporate, by reference, the final mitigation plan approved by the district engineer;
(iii) State the objectives, performance standards, and monitoring required for the compensatory mitigation project, unless they are provided in the approved final mitigation plan; and
(iv) Describe any required financial assurances or long-term management provisions for the compensatory mitigation project, unless they are specified in the approved final mitigation plan.
(3) For a general permit activity that requires permittee-responsible compensatory mitigation, the special conditions must describe the compensatory mitigation proposal, which may be either conceptual or detailed. The general permit verification must also include a special condition that states that the permittee cannot commence work in waters of the United States until the district engineer approves the final mitigation plan, unless the district engineer determines that such a special condition is not practicable and not necessary to ensure timely completion of the required compensatory mitigation. To the extent appropriate and practicable, special conditions of the general permit verification should also address the requirements of paragraph (k)(2) of this section.
(4) If a mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program is used to provide the required compensatory mitigation, the special conditions must indicate whether a mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program will be used, and specify the number and resource type of credits the permittee is required to secure. In the case of an individual permit, the special condition must also identify the specific mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program that will be used. For general permit verifications, the special conditions may either identify the specific mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program, or state that the specific mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program used to provide the required compensatory mitigation must be approved by the district engineer before the credits are secured.
(l) Party responsible for compensatory mitigation.
(1) For permittee-responsible mitigation, the special conditions of the DA permit must clearly indicate the party or parties responsible for the implementation, performance, and long-term management of the compensatory mitigation project.
(2) For mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs, the instrument must clearly indicate the party or parties responsible for the implementation, performance, and long-term management of the compensatory mitigation project(s). The instrument must also contain a provision expressing the sponsor's agreement to assume responsibility for a permittee's compensatory mitigation requirements, once that permittee has secured the appropriate number and resource type of credits from the sponsor and the district engineer has received the documentation described in paragraph (l)(3) of this section.
(3) If use of a mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program is approved by the district engineer to provide part or all of the required compensatory mitigation for a DA permit, the permittee retains responsibility for providing the compensatory mitigation until the appropriate number and resource type of credits have been secured from a sponsor and the district engineer has received documentation that confirms that the sponsor has accepted the responsibility for providing the required compensatory mitigation. This documentation may consist of a letter or form signed by the sponsor, with the permit number and a statement indicating the number and resource type of credits that have been secured from the sponsor. Copies of this documentation will be retained in the administrative records for both the permit and the instrument. If the sponsor fails to provide the required compensatory mitigation, the district engineer may pursue measures against the sponsor to ensure compliance.
(m) Timing. Implementation of the compensatory mitigation project shall be, to the maximum extent practicable, in advance of or concurrent with the activity causing the authorized impacts. The district engineer shall require, to the extent appropriate and practicable, additional compensatory mitigation to offset temporal losses of aquatic functions that will result from the permitted activity.
(n) Financial assurances.
(1) The district engineer shall require sufficient financial assurances to ensure a high level of confidence that the compensatory mitigation project will be successfully completed, in accordance with applicable performance standards. In cases where an alternate mechanism is available to ensure a high level of confidence that the compensatory mitigation will be provided and maintained (e.g., a formal, documented commitment from a government agency or public authority) the district engineer may determine that financial assurances are not necessary for that compensatory mitigation project.
(2) The amount of the required financial assurances must be determined by the district engineer, in consultation with the project sponsor, and must be based on the size and complexity of the compensatory mitigation project, the degree of completion of the project at the time of project approval, the likelihood of success, the past performance of the project sponsor, and any other factors the district engineer deems appropriate. Financial assurances may be in the form of performance bonds, escrow accounts, casualty insurance, letters of credit, legislative appropriations for government sponsored projects, or other appropriate instruments, subject to the approval of the district engineer. The rationale for determining the amount of the required financial assurances must be documented in the administrative record for either the DA permit or the instrument. In determining the assurance amount, the district engineer shall consider the cost of providing replacement mitigation, including costs for land acquisition, planning and engineering, legal fees, mobilization, construction, and monitoring.
(3) If financial assurances are required, the DA permit must include a special condition requiring the financial assurances to be in place prior to commencing the permitted activity.
(4) Financial assurances shall be phased out once the compensatory mitigation project has been determined by the district engineer to be successful in accordance with its performance standards. The DA permit or instrument must clearly specify the conditions under which the financial assurances are to be released to the permittee, sponsor, and/or other financial assurance provider, including, as appropriate, linkage to achievement of performance standards, adaptive management, or compliance with special conditions.
(5) A financial assurance must be in a form that ensures that the district engineer will receive notification at least 120 days in advance of any termination or revocation. For third-party assurance providers, this may take the form of a contractual requirement for the assurance provider to notify the district engineer at least 120 days before the assurance is revoked or terminated.
(6) Financial assurances shall be payable at the direction of the district engineer to his designee or to a standby trust agreement. When a standby trust is used (e.g., with performance bonds or letters of credit) all amounts paid by the financial assurance provider shall be deposited directly into the standby trust fund for distribution by the trustee in accordance with the district engineer's instructions.
(o) Compliance with applicable law. The compensatory mitigation project must comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws. The DA permit, mitigation banking instrument, or in-lieu fee program instrument must not require participation by the Corps or any other federal agency in project management, including receipt or management of financial assurances or long-term financing mechanisms, except as determined by the Corps or other agency to be consistent with its statutory authority, mission, and priorities.