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IDA to ask for approval on wetlands permit
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The Effingham Industrial Development Authority may have taken a substantial step forward in the future of its I-16 holdings.

The IDA has approved submitting its 404 wetlands permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which the IDA needs before it can start work on the northern tract of its I-16 property. IDA members could receive a decision on their application within 90 days and also have begun the steps to purchase wetlands mitigation credits.

IDA Chief Executive Officer John Henry said the group has been working for more than a year on its plans for Corps approval, and the 404 permit is needed before the IDA can start moving dirt within the park.

“We’re constantly working on this, one step at a time,” he said.

Board members were enthusiastic about finally getting the 404 permit application ready to send to the Corps.

“What we’re doing is proactive and positive,” said IDA member Dick Knowlton. “We’ve even gone to the extent of acquiring credits. We’re working so hard to make it easier for them to make a decision.”

Knowlton, who added that the IDA’s strategy was similar to the one the Savannah Economic Development Authority pursued with its Crossroads Business Park, said it may cut down on the Corps’ review time by 90 days.

“We’ve reached a critical point in the future of our organization,” he said.

Henry said industrial prospects want to see development authorities being proactive in their approach to getting sites ready for users, such as receiving a Corps go-ahead on a 404 permit.

“It means so much to a company that you’ve already received this,” he said.

“We just saved a company 18 months, that’s what it means,” added IDA project manager Ryan Moore.

IDA members also approved purchasing credits in a wetlands mitigation bank. The bank is actually an area of land set aside for preservation and conservation to offset areas lost to development and other uses.

“There’s a big demand in the market and some volatility in the prices,” Henry said.

The IDA could need as many as seven credits, and prices for credits range widely, depending on the mitigation bank being used. Henry said the IDA has only four such banks with which to work and one of those is out of the question because of credits allocated to other entities. Another wetlands bank is an isolated wetlands, Henry explained.

The IDA has completed its long-awaited transaction with R.B. Baker, a property swap that will enable the IDA to build an entrance road from Old River Road into the northern tract. The northern tract is more than 1,500 acres.

However, a section of wetlands crosses where the entrance road is planned, and Corps approval of the 404 permit has to be obtained before the IDA can mitigate that wetlands. Henry said the proposed road way is the one area where the IDA is guaranteed to need wetlands mitigation.

“That road access is your number-one priority,” said Mike DeMell of Environmental Services, Inc., which has been assisting the IDA in its northern tract work. “We want the credit receipt in hand so on day one the (404) permit is issued, you’re freed up and ready to go. You can build a road.”

“It’s the next logical step,” added IDA member Jimmy Wells.

But the 404 approval isn’t necessary to buy wetlands mitigation credits. A 20 percent deposit on the wetlands bank can reserve that space for 180 days.

The IDA also plans on creating its own on-site mitigation for wetlands.

“We are going to sell that to the Corps,” Henry said. “We don’t know they will be in 100 percent accord with this plan. We think we’ve got a good case.”

As many as 100 acres in the northern tract could be impacted as wetlands, but the IDA is attempting to limit how much wetlands they will cross. A proposed site plan being readied for the Corps shows the largest possible footprint a single large user would have, and the IDA drew upon its experiences with Mitsubishi and Continental Tire in preparing its layout. Both companies looked at the northern tract before locating elsewhere.

“We apply for a package that is the maximum we can justify, to allow you the most flexibility,” DeMell said. “So when a user comes in for the site, you can go without any delays.”

The IDA only will have to acquire credits as it identifies wetlands for mitigation, and the map being submitted to the Corps gives the IDA flexibility in its plans.

“If we don’t need it,” Henry said of the wetlands, “we don’t take it.”

The Corps of Engineers is not a fan of speculative industrial parks, Henry acknowledged, though that’s the nature of the IDA’s business.

“We have to show what the maximum potential would be,” he said. “This is the culmination of a year’s worth of work. This plan covers all possible development plans to their maximum impact.”