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FRANKFORT, Ky. (Aug. 20, 2021) — The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has started the design phase of three major stream improvement projects near the Ohio River in western Boone County.
Two of the projects are adjacent to existing natural areas and parklands along Middle Creek near Boone Cliffs State Nature Preserve and the Dinsmore Homestead. A third project, which has been contracted through a turnkey provider, will protect several populations of running buffalo clover in addition to more than 4 miles of stream habitat improvements.
"The goal of the three projects is to offset impacts to streams and wetland habitats in northern Kentucky caused by development," said Mike Hardin, Fisheries Division assistant director for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
The projects are funded by the Kentucky Wetland and Stream Mitigation Program, also known as the Fees In-Lieu-of (FILO) Mitigation Fund. The program uses mitigation fund dollars held in trust in the state treasury solely for wetland and stream mitigation projects like these.
"The FILO program was established in 2002 to create a mechanism which allows development to continue while ensuring that stream and wetland habitat improvements endure," said Scott Porter, an attorney for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. "So, because the department's mission is to conserve, protect and enhance fish and wildlife resources, including the habitats upon which they depend, in order to protect these public resources, the department was designated by statute to oversee and manage the program and its projects."
Mitigation fund dollars come from land development projects that have caused the permanent loss of stream and wetland habitat. Under the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, development projects that cause permanent loss of streams and wetlands require compensation in the form of mitigation projects to offset losses to stream and wetland habitat.
"Developers can provide the mitigation on their own or they can elect to use the department's FILO mitigation fund to meet federal requirements," said Rob Lewis, an engineer with the program. "Mitigation is a complex, multi-year obligation and this program offers a convenient, pre-approved option for developers to defer that obligation to the department. From the outset of these projects, jobs are created and funds go back into the state and local economy through design engineering firms and construction contractors working locally to improve aquatic resources."
To date, the department has improved and protected more than 130 miles of headwater streams and 29 acres of wetland habitat through its FILO program.
The program has mitigation projects covering more than 1.5-million feet of streams and 375 acres of wetlands in 48 counties in various phases of development. Among these projects, 47 have been constructed, four are under construction, 22 are in the design phase, and another eight are new projects in the initial stage of securing easements or acquiring property for stream restoration.
Hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreation is vital to Kentucky's economy, producing $5.9 billion in total economic impact every year and supporting about 70,000 jobs. Public lands and waters draw residents and nonresidents alike to all corners of the Commonwealth to recreate and spend. Public hunting lands alone generate an estimated economic impact of $182 per acre per year.
More than 11,000 acres have been acquired through the stream and wetland mitigation program, as required by federal rules governing the program, also affording new outdoor recreation opportunities to the public.
Some of these include the popular Hatchery Creek trout stream below Wolf Creek Dam in Russell County, Veterans Memorial Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Scott County and Big Rivers WMA and State Forest in Crittenden and Union counties. The program also has provided for property additions to the John A. Kleber WMA in Franklin and Owen counties and Clay WMA along the Licking River in Nicholas and Bath counties.
Still more mitigation projects have been constructed on private lands, conserving stream and wetland habitats and abating soil loss on working farms.
Most of the permit payments for development in northern Kentucky over the past three years have been received for impacts in Boone County, including the airport expansion project in 2018. Of the 19 development projects in northern Kentucky during that span, all but six have been for development in the county.
The three new projects could re-invest as much as $15 million of mitigation funds alone back into Boone County in the form of thousands of feet of stream habitat improvements.
"I am so pleased that Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is making these key investments in Boone County and Northern Kentucky," Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore said. "These investments are protecting valuable natural lands with beautiful streams and tree canopies, and of course wildlife habitat. This land conservation is happening at the perfect time as we work to create a balance in our land use decisions with our fast-paced growth and development."
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