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Wetlands and RIT, Can’t We Just Build Anywhere?

David Woodhams's picture

By David Armanini Whether you’ve worked at RIT for decades or are a freshman student, one aspect of the campus environment that is blatantly obvious is that more and more buildings are being constructed.  The continued growth of RIT from a program and facility standpoint has positioned this university into a national player, gaining greater respect with each laid brick. While it is easy to say, “Just keep building”, there are many variables that factor into these decisions, such as funding, additional program needs, return on investment, upkeep and maintenance costs, parking, etc.   One important factor that many do not realize is “location, location, location”. 

Because of RIT’s close proximity to the Genesee River and having Red Creek run directly through the campus there are many low lying areas that remain “wet” for the majority of the year. Many of these “wetlands” are regulated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), if they meet certain criteria, and in the majority of cases filling these wetlands to build is strictly prohibited. In other cases the regulatory agency will allow you to impact or fill a wetland to build but will require some type of mitigation.  Mitigation usually involves creating a new wetland at a different location which most of the time requires a 3:1 ratio of acres constructed to acres impacted.  Therefore, it is paramount that the boundaries of regulated wetlands are identified and reviewed prior to any decision being made on the location of a structure.

Since there are different agencies that regulate wetlands, definitions vary but both contain there basic criteria for determining a wetland.  They are:

  1. Hydric Soils - Soils that formed under conditions of saturation, flooding, or ponding, long enough during the growing season to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part of the soil.
  2. Hydrophytic Vegetation - plant-life that thrives in wet conditions
  3. Hydrology - permanent or periodic inundation or soil saturation at the surface for a week or more during the growing season

Both the NYSDEC and the USACE have their own set of wetland requirements that must be followed.  The NYSDEC regulates wetlands that are 12.5 acres or greater and has created a map indicated where their wetlands are located.  The NYSDEC also regulates a 100-foot adjacent area around the wetland boundary.  The USACE requires wetland delineation be performed of areas that are potentially wetlands and requires a permit for any impact to a non-isolated wetland. The USACE does not regulate adjacent areas next to a wetland.

So as you can see just because there are numerous open spaces on campus, careful planning and review of complex wetland laws need to performed in order to choose an appropriate location for our next big building project.