York County eyes road credits

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comJanuary 3, 2014 

— Major road projects in York County are doing more harm than good for the environment, some say. But one idea could change that trend.

York County Council last week briefly discussed a possible mitigation bank, an environmental improvement project where developers buy credits when they disturb streams or wetlands. Developers would use those credits to avoid having to make environmental improvements on-site.

Councilman Chad Williams said the project is in early discussions but could operate through York County Forever and be used on countywide Pennies for Progress projects.

“Mitigation banks are complicated,” he said. “It probably wouldn’t benefit the Pennies program to do it solely for that, but it goes hand-in-hand with York County Forever’s mission.”

Before the council’s Dec. 16 meeting, the group voted to allocate $156,000 for credits toward the S.C. 274/Pole Branch Road improvements approved by voters in the most recent round of Pennies. Engineering firm Mead & Hunt found 240 feet of stream and another acre of wetland will be impacted there. A bridge replacement over Mill Creek is part of the concern. Two box culverts need extension, and two pipes crossing an existing roadway need extension or replacement.

Taylor’s Creek Stream Mitigation Bank is the nearest site with available credits. About 35 miles north of Columbia in Fairfield County, the 1,100-acre site with 7 miles of stream is connected to Lake Wateree. Restoration work was done there and now owner Mike Tighe can sell credits for projects where on-site restoration isn’t an option, would be too costly or would take longer than buying credits.

The council last month approved almost $90,000 in credits from Taylor’s Creek for work on the Tega Cay Connector Road. County engineer Phil Leazer called the approval of mitigation funding “the next step in the process” there. The money comes out of pre-approved construction budgets.

Mitigation banks are evaluated based on their proximity to a project. Taylor’s Creek is the third and final distance level for being allowed on York County projects. Credits come available and are purchased quickly, according to county staff information. When they aren’t available, projects can see delays.

At Taylor’s Creek, improvements along waterways were made and an easement put on the property to create a permanent fix, Tighe said. Something similar in York County could have the same impact, and have the work reimbursed by local roads. For the Pole Branch Road project, county staff estimated 1,200 credits would be needed at $130 per credit.

At this point, a more local mitigation bank is just a conversation. The next step, Williams said, would be to further study the idea and begin evaluating properties for improvement.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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