The LSU AgCenter is pursuing a plan to turn a 400-acre site it owns in St. Gabriel into a wetlands mitigation bank, which it could use as a teaching and research tool and also as a revenue generator.
Officials from the AgCenter and LSU are currently drafting a solicitation for offers for a private partner—presumably, an engineering or environmental services firm with an expertise in wetlands—that could help it return the site, located on both sides of La. 30 near the intersection of Highway 74, to its natural wetlands state. The process would likely take several years to complete and is contingent on approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A mitigation bank is a wetlands area that has been restored, established or preserved to compensate for future conversions of wetlands for development activities. Under the program, which was created by the federal government in the early 1990s, developers can purchase “credits” from a mitigation bank to offset the loss of wetlands they will destroy elsewhere in the course of doing a project.
AgCenter officials began exploring the idea of converting the St. Gabriel site to a mitigation bank in response to ongoing budget cuts in recent years and the need to sell off or monetize surplus property. In the process, they realized a mitigation bank could serve as a living laboratory that university researchers and students could use to study various aspects of wetlands restoration.
“When you build a mitigation bank, those resources have to establish themselves over a number of years,” says Rogers Leonard, associate vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the AgCenter. “So this would be an opportunity for our students to see it happen and learn about the process, and faculty could participate in long-term research goals.”
Eventually, the AgCenter could also sell credits from the mitigation bank to generate revenue. Leonard says it’s too soon to estimate the value of the credits and how much they could generate or, for that matter, how much it will cost to convert the 400-acre property. Those are questions the procurement documents will seek to answer.
“Part of the process is to determine what it’s going to cost, how long it is going to take and other factors,” he says. “We don’t have all the answers yet. But the goal is to develop this into a living, learning laboratory that eventually could turn into an income stream.”