Wetlands mitigation bank deeded to Morgan County

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
The Flint Creek Wetlands Mitigation Bank, a 647 acre wetland preserve located on Highway 36 three miles west of Hartselle, was deeded to Morgan County by Robinsong Ecological Recourses, Inc. at a recent ceremony conducted at the Agricultural Service Center near Hartselle.
Participating in the property transfer were Cynthia Robinson, Robinsong's CEO and her partner Jo Somers and Morgan County Commissioners John Glasscock, chairman, Jeff Clark, Stacy George and Kevin Murphy.
Glasscock and Robinson signed documents and a dollar bill was passed from Glasscock to Robinson to seal the deal.
"This is not only a dream come true for Robinsong but Morgan County as well," Glasscock said. "Morgan countians will be reaping the benefits of these wetlands for generations to come."
Robinson thanked the commission and several individuals for their support. He thanked the late Tuck Stone, Wheeler Wildlife Refuge director; Foy Kirkland, Natural Resource and Conservation Service representative; and Brad Boles, Flint Creek Watershed project leader.
The property transfer was the culmination of an agreement between Robinsong and the commission, which was made in 1998. Robinsong committed to the restoration of the 647-acre cattle and grain farm to a hardwood bottom wetland and agreed to deed it to the county after its wetland credits were sold. The commission agreed to provide long-term care for the wetland. To compensate for its stewardship, Robinsong deeded four acres to the county at the start of the process so that a facility could be built onsite to house the offices of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Morgan County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Flint Creek Watershed Conservancy.
The conservation project was the brainchild of Cynthia Robinson, an entrepreneur and environmentalist ahead of her time. When she purchased the farm with a bank loan few people understood the need for mitigation banking as an innovative way to encourage land developers to restore the nation's wetlands.
Robinson was motivated by her dedication to the environment and her desire to harness what she had learned about wetlands and put it into use in a variety of ecological endeavors. She was also motivated by the work being done by the Flint Creek Watershed Initiative. A homegrown effort to improve water quality in Morgan County. She knew that the county's Flint Creek had some of the dirtiest water in the nation; in 1998, it was No. 3 on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of the nation's most polluted waterways. At that time, Morgan County, EPA and local citizens had formed the Flint Creek Watershed Conservancy. Restoring a wetland in that watershed would help; the wetland would filter out sediment and other pollutants.
Robinsong structured a deal involving the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Morgan County and others that would convert the farm into the state's first privately owned wetlands mitigation bank. The project would require nearly a decade of planning, grueling field work and finally monitoring by the Corps of Engineers before reaching the level of success necessary for Robinson to step aside and turn the wetlands over to Morgan County.
The project was begun on land that Robinson recognized as ideal for wetland mitigation. To meet the Corps of Engineers' approval, only land that was formerly wetlands-usually drained for farming in the 1930s and 1940s-would qualify. This farm had historically been a wetland, a wetland that had been clear-cut and drained for agricultural purposes. It was frequently flooded by backwater from Flint Creek and the Tennessee River. Restoring a wetland in this location where the wetland could filter the creek's backwater would be very beneficial to Flint Creek. The farm was large enough to have a significant impact on the health of the creek and large enough to provide good habitat for native wildlife.
As a part of the wetland restoration, 160,000 trees in ten different native species were planted, including several species of oak, bald cypress and river birch. Next came five years of monitoring, sampling and report writing to document the progress of vegetation and hydrology.
Foy Kirkland, Morgan County District Conservationist, quantified the ecological success of the mitigation bank and called attention to some of the conservation activities it supports.
"Prior to authorization of the wetland mitigation bank, approximately 524 acres of the farm were managed for silage crops that contributed an estimated 15 tons per acre per year of sediment to the down-stream watershed. With the land cover change to trees and grasses, a quality wildlife habitat was created and a 524 acre filter was restored that now contributes less than one ton per acre per year and also removes sediment and nutrients from hundreds of acres up stream. In addition, the bank is actively being utilized as a 657 acre outdoor conservation education classroom, for area students, by the Natural Resources Conservation service and the Morgan County Soil and Water Conservation District," he said.

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