Corps Complicates Wetlands Delineation Process
In a move that NAHB says is complicating the process of delineating wetlands and making more land subject to the federal permitting process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has requested comments on the latest of a series of supplemental delineation manuals.
NAHB last week submitted comments on the Corps’ “Draft Eastern Mountains and Piedmont Regional Supplement to the 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual” (Corps Action ID #: 2009-00993), questioning the reasoning behind some of the agency’s decisions and requesting more consistency in the methodology “to benefit both delineators and reviewers of delineations alike.”
The supplement increases the number of indicators used to determine whether a piece of property contains a wetland, and “each of these new indicators provides an opportunity to qualify an area as a wetland in an instance where, prior to the creation of the new indicator, the wetland would not have qualified,” the comments said.
“This change in methodology is premised on the ‘try, try again’ philosophy that seems to assert that if you ask enough questions, one of the answers will eventually be ‘yes.’ Such an approach is wrong, as it ignores basic scientific principles and blatantly pushes regulators to include more areas as wetlands,” the comments said.
For example, the new delineation method says that the presence of vegetation — including loblolly pine or Japanese honeysuckle — is an indication that the land in question is a wetland; in 2004 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told NAHB that certain vegetation was being used to determine the classification of wetlands “because some experts told us to,” the NAHB comments said.
“This response, which indicates the level of technical review that was considered, fails to acknowledge that several of the ‘experts’ that were consulted opposed the changes [and] the Corps inappropriately is now making a back-door attempt to reach the same end point,” the comments said.
“The federal wetlands program needs to be based on sound science, yet no technical basis has been provided to justify these new changes to the wetlands methodology as detailed in the new supplement. The supplement also represents a significant increase in the complexity of methods used in the delineation process. This complexity will translate to additional costs to private industry, which will ultimately be borne by the consumer,” the comments said.
NAHB also asked for a copy of the peer review the Corps is arranging for the new supplement.
For additional information, e-mail Glynn Rountree at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8662.