DEQ Proposes Wetland General Permit for Blueberry Farming, Public Comment Period Now Open
On December 30, 2013, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ("DEQ") publicly noticed a proposed general permit category for activities in wetlands. The activity involves blueberry farming and it -- at long-last -- recognizes that blueberry farms require the type of hydrology typically found in wetlands and that blueberry farms maintain most if not all of the functions that make wetlands valuable to Michigan's environment.
The proposed general permit lists numerous conditions that must be met in order for blueberry farmers to take advantage of it. These include, among others:
- Only minimal drainage and earth moving is allowed;
- The wetland must not be converted to non-wetland;
- A conservation easement is required;
- Roads, ditches, reservoirs, pump houses and secondary support facilities are generally prohibited in the wetlands;
- Drainage, tillage and stump grinding are limited to 12" below the soil surface;
- Using wood chips or mulch are generally allowed but not to convert the wetland to upland; and
- Must reuse excavated soil materials for backfill of trenches.
While many in the blueberry industry argued that permits should not be required for blueberry farming in wetlands, the political realities of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ("EPA's") delegated authority of the Clean Water Act wetland program to the DEQ required a permit. The primary benefit of having a general permit instead of requiring farmers to obtain individual permits is that the permittee is not required to mitigate (meaning replace) the wetlands that will be used for blueberry farming.
The DEQ is accepting public comment on the proposed general permit through February 12, 2014. In addition, the EPA will have to approve of the general permit before it becomes effective.
The DEQ has not yet proposed a new general permit or minor project category for blueberry farming or other types of farming that includes more than minimal drainage or earth moving. 2013 P.A. 98 (which amended Part 303 effective July 2, 2013), required the DEQ to propose that general permit or minor project category by December 31, 2013.