Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
Preserving "Greatest Potential" Ecosystems in Kentucky
Until a few years ago, it had become increasingly difficult for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) to identify, purchase, and maintain quality mitigation sites needed to offset unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources affected by highway projects. Mitigation for stream and wetland impacts was often unsuccessful, too expensive, or both. Mitigation sites located on private property could not guarantee permanent protection of KYTC's investment.
The KYTC met this challenge by building new and different relationships. In January 2005, the Cabinet signed an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to fund targeted conservation projects that would result in mitigation credits for KYTC. Through this agreement, FWS staff use their time and resources to work with their partners on identifying properties with the greatest potential--the potential to yield both conservation benefits and mitigation credits. "Greatest potential" properties would offer continued protection of endangered, rare, and at-risk species and their habitats, and would likely yield substantial wetland and stream mitigation credits available to KYTC.
After a potential site has been identified, the FWS prepares a mitigation and habitat-restoration plan and meets with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to see if the Corps agrees with the plan and the estimated number of credits likely to be received if the plan succeeds. Then the plan is submitted to KYTC, and if it is considered cost-effective and accepted, project development is funded according to the plan.
Implementing the project typically includes purchasing the mitigation site, and designing, constructing, and monitoring the project. All this work is done through a separate agreement which FWS makes with a third party, usually a land trust or non-profit organization like The Nature Conservancy, an organization experienced in land protection and habitat restoration. Thanks to this agreement, the sites are preserved in perpetuity and the cost of site construction and monitoring are kept at a minimum.
Shifting relationships in Kentucky's stream and wetland mitigation process has changed joint efforts among the FHWA, KYTC, and FWS from an often adversarial partnership to one of mutual cooperation and trust.
Since the 2005 agreement, land and water conservation in Kentucky have improved significantly. KYTC's mitigation sites are located across the state in watersheds where highway impacts occur. The habitat-restoration results are impressive. In just the past year, 125 acres of wetlands and more than 20,000 linear-feet of stream have been protected in 5 counties.
For more information, contact Anthony Goodman, Anthony.Goodman@dot.gov