Putting ink to paper during an informal ceremony held on August 21, Dave Castanon signed the bank enabling instrument for the San Luis Rey River Mitigation Bank, adding nearly 54 acres of the river’s floodplain to a pool of land that will provide compensatory mitigation for projects that impact wetlands and other waters of the United States.
Castanon, chief of the Los Angeles District’s Regulatory Division, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, signed the agreement that designates Wildlands SLR Holdings I, LLC as the mitigation bank sponsor, responsible for the design, construction, operation and interim management of the property located west of the community of Bonsall along San Luis Rey River in northwestern San Diego County.
A mitigation bank is an aquatic resource habitat restoration and protection project developed to offset unavoidable permitted impacts to federal and state jurisdictional wetland and non-wetland habitat. With approval, public and private development projects can mitigate their impacts by purchasing mitigation “credits” from the bank.
The property, acquired by Wildlands in 2011, has historically been utilized for agriculture, most recently for tomato cultivation, and due to its location and high potential for successful restoration, has been identified by several state and federal agencies as a high priority restoration site.
“The site is basically devoid of any wetland functionality or habitat value now, but once completed the bank will provide flood benefits, sediment control and a wildlife corridor of suitable habitat for listed species like the arroyo toad, southwestern willow flycatcher and Least Bell’s vireo,” said Brian Monaghan, vice president of Wildlands. “We’ve had this restoration project on our radar screen for many years, and it has been a real collaborative effort between Wildlands, the Corps and the Department throughout the approval process.”
Therese O’Rourke Bradford, chief of the Corps’ South Coast Regulatory Branch, agrees the site is a high priority for restoration and permanent conservation.
“This wetlands mitigation bank is a great example of a private-public partnership that allows conservation and development to occur,” Bradford said. ”We are looking forward to the work beginning as soon as possible.”
The goal for the San Luis Rey River mitigation bank is to create a riparian wetland and non-wetland habitat that meets the jurisdictional requirements identified by the Corps and Fish and Wildlife. Furthermore, although the site is designated critical habitat for the federally endangered arroyo toad, federally endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, and state and federally endangered least Bell’s vireo, habitat assessments conducted in 2011 indicate the active agricultural operation does not allow the establishment of suitable habitat for these species.
Restoration of the site would improve the wildlife corridor along the river and likely result in the restoration of breeding habitat for these species.