February 2, 2021 – Ground Hog Day By Ramona du Houx A ground hog may not see his shadow during the blizzard of 2021 but he’d be happy to know that eleven projects to restore, enhance, or protect wetlands and other important natural resources around the state have been selected to receive funding from the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program […]
February 2, 2021 – Ground Hog Day
By Ramona du Houx
A ground hog may not see his shadow during the blizzard of 2021 but he’d be happy to know that eleven projects to restore, enhance, or protect wetlands and other important natural resources around the state have been selected to receive funding from the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program (MNRCP), the Department of Environmental Protection today.
Projects awarded funding in this round include a dam removal project in Vassalboro, a tidal culvert upgrade in Cape Elizabeth, and conservation of high-value wetlands at sites ranging in size from 24 acres to nearly 500 acres.
Conservation projects are located in 6 Maine counties and include the towns of Masardis, Winthrop, Chebeague Island, Georgetown, Harpswell, Oxford, Fryeburg, Sanford, and South Berwick. In total, $2,455,038 was awarded to restore or enhance almost 10 acres of wetlands and help conserve over 1,300 acres of wetlands and associated upland buffer.
“MNRCP has become one of Maine’s most important tools for conservationists and developers to work together to protect fragile wetland habitats,” said Acting Commissioner Melanie Loyzim of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “It’s a win for Maine’s natural environment, and it’s win for Maine’s economy.”
MNRCP was created to help offset unavoidable impacts to natural resources at one site by funding the restoration or preservation of similar resources at another site within the same region of the state. In all, more than 130 projects across Maine have been funded since the program began in 2008.
The program offers an efficient and workable alternative for permit applicants after all efforts have been made to avoid or minimize wetland impacts. In-lieu fees are collected from approved applicants by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and transferred to the Natural Resource Conservation Fund. Public agencies, municipalities, and non-profit conservation organizations apply through an annual, competitive process to use these funds for restoration, enhancement, or preservation of aquatic resources in Maine.
Proposals are then evaluated and ranked by a Review Committee, which is convened by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and made up of public and nonprofit entities. The final funding decisions are made by an Approval Committee comprised of state and federal agencies.
“Heading into its 13th review cycle, MNRCP is one of the most successful of the state-wide In Lieu Fee compensatory mitigation programs in New England and the country,” said Jay Clement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Project Office. “The program offers greater predictability and streamlining of state and federal wetland permitting processes which benefits developers and regulators alike and helps restore and protect Maine’s important natural resources. Maine’s citizens and visitors appreciate the state’s freshwater and marine ecosystems and this vital program helps ensure their long-term viability and societal benefit.”
The Nature Conservancy administers the process and is responsible for seeing that the projects are executed. In this administrative role, the Conservancy does not have a vote on which proposals are approved for funding.
“It’s important to have high-quality compensation for the impacts associated with development in the state, and this program helps ensure Maine sees that,” said Bryan Emerson, mitigation program manager for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “MNRCP has been successful at focusing conservation efforts on key habitat areas and providing much-needed funding for important, long-lasting conservation projects to applicants from all parts of Maine.”
“The collaboration between Maine DEP, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is critical for supporting a strategic process resulting in compensation projects that are saving and strengthening our state’s highest value wetland habitats,” Loyzim said.
Recipients of this year’s project funding include the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Kennebec Land Trust, Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust, Maine Rivers, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, Western Foothills Land Trust, Greater Lovell Land Trust, Three Rivers Land Trust, Great Works Regional Land Trust, and the Town of Cape Elizabeth.
In 2021, MNRCP will be seeking more projects that restore or protect coastal ecosystems, including salt marshes, eelgrass beds, and other intertidal and subtidal habitats. MNRCP carefully tracks the resources that have been impacted in the state and works hard to fund conservation projects that compensate for those specific resources that are being impacted. In recent years, MNRCP has seen an uptick in impacts to coastal resources, and therefore will prioritize funding for projects in the coastal environment in 2021.