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MOVING WETLANDS WITHOUT A FUSS

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Wetlands mitigation projects usually don't have happy endings. In fact, they virtually never are completed without protests from environmentalists, sportsmen or developers. That is why the Salt Lake International Airport's 465-acre wetlands project to make way for a new runway is being hailed as a model for the rest of the nation.

Not only does the project appear to be a success, it is a quiet success, thanks to careful planning and cooperation.While work continues on a runway that will allow the nation's fastest-growing airport to keep up with its needs, crews have succeeded in moving 135 acres of open-water habitat, 110 acres of mud flats and 135 acres of marsh. The new wetlands, about three miles northwest of the main airport terminal, already have attracted about 4,000 waterfowl and 500 shore-birds.

That is no small accomplishment, particularly since the Environmental Protection Agency once considered telling local officials they would have to build an entirely new airport elsewhere rather than disturb the wild-life.

The mitigation project ended up costing $12 million - much less than a new airport. Happy endings like these are refreshing in an age where competing interests often resort to squaring off and seeing who can yell loudest.