By 2030, Richland County, SC is expected to grow by more than 50,000 residents. This growing population will require improved and expanded roads, so in 2015, Richland County instituted a penny sales tax to raise revenue for road construction projects over the next 20 years. While these construction projects will seek first to avoid and then to minimize impacts to wetland areas, sometimes transportation projects will unavoidably impact wetlands and other aquatic resources. When unavoidable impacts occur, projects are required to mitigate these impacts by obtaining credits for creating, restoring, enhancing, or preserving an equal amount of wetlands to those impacted.
Thanks to forward-thinking conservation staff at Richland County and a public-private partnership involving the County, private investors, and the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Richland County transportation projects will have access to mitigation credits from the local Mill Creek Mitigation Bank—currently the largest mitigation bank in South Carolina—and the streams and wetlands at Mill Creek will be restored and preserved.
The Mill Creek property is a 1,360-acre tract of bottomland hardwood forest, upland pines, freshwater floodplain wetlands, and streams near Congaree National Park. The property was used as a private hunt club and cattle farm until it was purchased by Richland County through a public-private partnership with private investors in 2015. Wetland mitigation credits are being awarded to the Mill Creek Mitigation Bank as projects are completed to create, restore, enhance, and preserve the site’s aquatic resources.
The mitigation team is removing culverts, dams, and other structures that historically reduced water flow and flooding into the swamp; constructing channels to restore water flow into the historical floodplain; removing planted pine trees and stumps to enable the return of native forest vegetation; and monitoring and removing invasive species. These projects will enhance wetland functioning and provide significant improvements to the local ecosystem. At the same time, County construction projects are able to purchase credits from the Bank as they are needed. This speeds up the construction permitting process while returning funds to the County and the investors.
The Mill Creek Mitigation Bank will be available to provide wetland and stream mitigation credits for transportation projects throughout the 22-year life of the penny tax program. Once all the credits have been used and the property’s function as a mitigation bank ends, the Mill Creek property will continue to be available as a recreation and environmental education area and as an ecologically important wetland ecosystem. The land is permanently protected through a conservation easement held by the Richland SWCD, which is responsible for the long-term management and stewardship of the site.
“The Richland SWCD is excited to play a role in the story of the Mill Creek property. This important wetland area, now protected through a conservation easement, will continue to provide wetland ecosystem services as well as recreational opportunities for Richland County residents…forever.” -Richland SWCD Chairman Kenny Mullis