By Emmitt B. Feldner
for The Beacon
SHEBOYGAN – Sheboygan County’s newest bank could be up and running by this fall – a wetland mitigation bank.
County Planning and Conservation Director Aaron Brault updated the County Board Tuesday on the Amsterdam Dunes preservation area on Lake Michigan in the town of Holland.
The county will submit its updated proposal to the state Department of Natural Resources to create the wetlands bank next month, Brault said. Approval should come sometime in the summer, he predicted, which would mean construction of new wetland areas could begin in the fall.
The wetland mitigation bank would allow the county to sell credits to developers, locally or around the state, offset wetlands destroyed for development with new wetland areas at Amsterdam Dunes.
The county would be approved for 31.9 acres of new wetland on the largely-undeveloped 333-acre site, which the county purchased in 2015 for $4.2 million.
The county has recovered the full cost of that purchase and more through grants, easements, land sales and other sources, Brault noted.
The wetland credits are currently selling for $80,000 to $100,000 per credit, Brault said.
His department is also creating guidelines for selling the credits, including making them available for local developers at a lower cost than for out-of-county developers.
Brault estimated that, if the county sells the full amount of available credits, it could realize a profit of around $1.5 million after the cost of constructing the new wetlands.
Fall would be an optimal time to construct the wetlands, according to Brault. That would allow time for new vegetation to take root without having to endure the heat of summer.
The final step of the pre-application process was recently completed with a series of archaeological digs in the planned new wetlands area.
“The good news as far as the mitigation bank was that they didn’t find much (archaeologically-significant) material,” in the dig areas, Brault said.
In the more than a dozen digs, only about a quarter of a pound of ancient pottery shards were found, meaning it is not a signficant site for artifacts.
“The other good news is that we found a lot of water, which is good for building wetlands,” Brault added.
Non-wetland restoration projects are already well underway at Amsterdam Dunes, Brault told the board.
That includes the planting of around 4,200 trees last spring, with another 3,500 planned for this spring.
Brault said most of those trees are replacements for ash trees on the property that were infested with the emerald ash borer and had to be harvested. The new trees were paid for through two grants from the U.S. Forest Service.
Brault noted that Amsterdam Dunes has not been exempt from the beach erosion taking place all along Lake Michigan due to record high water levels.
Brault showed the board pictures indicating that about 185 feet of shore has been lost to the lake since 2014. “That’s pretty significant,” he commented. “There’s no beach left.”
“This is a perfect example of the type of collaboration that leads to good results,” Board Chair Thomas Wegner said of the Amsterdam Dunes purchase, which he added was originally, “a little bit of a leap of faith.”
County Administrator Adam Payne echoed Wegner’s comments.
“What an accomplishment that was by this board and the county,” Payne stated. “One hundred years from now people are going to be walking Amsterdam Dunes and they’ll be thinking, ‘Wow, somebody had the vision to do this.’”
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Brault also updated the board on several other of his department’s projects as well.
At the Broughton Sheboygan County Marsh, Brault said, work on replacement of the bypass gate at the dam should begin next week.
The gate stuck last year, delaying a planned drawdown of the marsh, and it was determined that it needed to be replaced.
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