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Focus on the environment

Southampton partnership would sell wetland credits

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Print this page by Garry Kranz

Southampton County has unveiled an unusual public-private partnership: creation of a wetlands-mitigation project.  Known as the Cheroenhaka Wetland and Stream Mitigation Bank, the project — on land adjacent to a proposed business park — is expected to create more than 40 acres of new wetlands. It also would restore 7,500 feet of streams in the Nottoway River watershed upon its expected completion in 2013.

The “bank” would indeed mimic an actual bank, accruing wetlands credits that could be sold on an open market to other developers, other localities and state agencies to offset environmental damage stemming from any new construction projects, similar to carbon credits.

The wetlands are being built in conjunction with the proposed 253-acre Southampton Commerce and Logistics Center, a complex planned by the Southampton County Industrial Development Authority to capitalize on an expected surge in business activity at the Port of Virginia.

“We are able to achieve the same result economically as we could have by making the entire parcel into an industrial park,” says Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson.  Since the wetlands don’t need infrastructure, he adds, the project serves to reduce the costs of establishing the industrial site.

Bunrootis LLC, an environmental-design firm in Dallas, is investing about $2.5 million to restore streams, preserve about 100 acres of forested uplands and plant aquatic flowers on former farmland known as the Turner Tract. Bunrootis will pay the county $1.75 million in rent to lease part of the property for the wetlands bank.  In return, the company gets to keep 49 percent of revenue from selling the environmental credits, estimated to top $11 million by 2022. Southampton County’s share of the proceeds could go as high as $4.25 million, according to a draft proposal on the project.

Also helping to develop the site is Timmons, a Richmond-based engineering firm that proposed bringing Bunrootis on board.

Besides Southampton County, numerous state and federal agencies had to sign off on the agreement. Meanwhile, business tenants are being recruited for Southampton’s new industrial park. About 80 acres are expected to be ready for occupancy by November, Johnson says.

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