Monday, August 25, 2014

Army Corps: Walnut Trees are a Wetland Species

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a number of ways to determine whether a particular piece of property should be classified as a wetland, and potentially subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.

One of them is to see what sorts of grasses, sedges, trees and other vegetation is growing on the property – and while cattails might be a dead giveaway, other plants might not seem so obvious.

But when the Corps decides that a walnut tree native to the hills of arid Southern California is a sign of a wetland, according to the National Wetlands Plant List, something’s a little haywire.

That’s why, with the help of expert consulting botanists, your Home Builders Association questioned the Corps’ determination. The good news? The association found out in May that its challenge, along with a similar request to change the rating for Japanese honeysuckle in other parts of the country, had been successful. The bad news? There are 8,055 challenges to go.

And unlike most other regulatory changes, the Corps can update the Plant List without going through the usual public notice and comment period. The list is updated at the Corps’ discretion and the changes appear online.

“This is a problem,” said NAHB Environmental Issues Committee Chair Charles “Chuck” Ellison, a builder in the Washington D.C. area and Delaware. “We need to know whether the decision to put a plant on the list is based on sound science. The process must be transparent.”

The committee is seeking the help of members whose projects have run afoul of the Plant List and will discuss its options during the National Association of Home Builders Fall Board of Directors meeting in Phoenix Sept. 3-6. For additional information, talk to Owen McDonough at 202-266-8662 or call Michael Dey at 864-254-0133.

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