MACo Proposes Tweaks To Forest Conservation Fees-In-Lieu Bill

On Tuesday, Legislative and Policy Counsel Leslie Knapp, Jr. testified in front of the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee to support SB 234 Natural Resources – State and Local Forest Conservation Funds with amendments. He also proposed the same amendments to its cross-file, HB 272, the following day.

This bill has several provisions that would directly affect counties:

1.Requiring a developer to check if there are appropriate credits generated by a forest mitigation bank prior to utilizing a fee-in-lieu option;

2.Requiring a local authority that wishes to collect a fee-in-lieu to provide: (a) a plan if identifying appropriate and potentially available areas for mitigation projects; and (b) detailed accounting procedures for accurately tracking fee-in-lieu monies;

3.Prohibiting a local authority from collecting a fee-in-lieu unless the authority has identified projects sufficient to cover the mitigation acreage required for the underlying development project; and

4.Requiring a local authority to ensure that the acreage for which the money is collected is fully mitigated in accordance with afforestation, reforestation, and conservation priorities and techniques authorized under State law.

While MACo does not have concerns with the first two provisions, the provision relating to identifying specific projects and the mitigation mandate can both be seen as unworkable and unnecessary respectively.

From the MACo testimony:

MACo is opposed to the bill’s requirements of having specific identified projects ready before collecting a fee-in-lieu and the unnecessary mitigation mandate. Identifying projects prior to collecting a fee-in-lieu runs counter to how local FCA programs actually work. Sometimes monies must be aggregated to undertake a specific project or property purchase. In other circumstances, a property or project may suddenly become available without a local authority’s prior knowledge. If passed, this provision of the bill would essentially end local fee-in-lieu programs.

The mitigation mandate is both unnecessary and redundant. Local authorities are already required to comply with applicable state laws and the bill’s new reporting requirements for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will show whether or not the proper number of acres are being mitigated. If the DNR report shows a mitigation problem with a particular local authority, then appropriate action can be taken.

For more on 2019 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.