FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The purchase of wetland and stream credits by the government is allowing Mission and Installation Contracting Command professionals to help guide the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence here toward full operational capability in September.

The projects, totaling more than $3.5 billion in construction of new barracks, motor pools, ranges, dining facilities and administrative buildings in four major cantonment areas, requires a hefty footprint.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission called for the relocation of the U.S. Army Armor School from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning. Its integration with activities at the U.S. Army Infantry Center and School established the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, or MCoE, which was activated in October 2010. The center will soon be responsible for training more than 52 percent of the Army’s warfighters.

“The constraints of available land suitable for construction made it impossible for Fort Benning to avoid impacts on wetlands or streams,” said Brenda Clark, the deputy director for the MICC Installation Contracting Office-Fort Benning. “Whenever such a massive construction effort takes place, it is inevitable that wetlands and streams are lost in the interest of progress.”

She added that without the purchase of wetland and stream credits from mitigation banks, construction projects and other ICO procurement actions required to meet the new mission for the MCoE at Fort Benning would not have been executed.

Clark said more than 10,000 feet of streams and 3,000 acres of wetlands were impacted during the construction of facilities in support of the MCoE.

“Construction of this magnitude involved the total transformation of an area of Fort Benning that was mostly woodlands and wetlands,” Clark said. “An entire infrastructure had to be built.”

That infrastructure included the installation of water, sewer and electrical services; the re-paving of abandoned roads and cut of new roads; construction of new buildings and ranges; as well as renovation and expansion of other buildings in the developed areas of the installation to accommodate the increased training load.

Clark explained that during the BRAC construction, wetlands were impacted when fill was placed in a wetland area to build barracks, destroying the wetland. She said streams on the installation were also impacted with the placement of pipes or hardened surfaces to allow for tank crossings.

Without the purchase of the wetland credits, officials at Fort Benning would have been in violation of the Clean Water Act of 1997, which would have resulted in Environmental Protection Agency fines at a considerable cost to the government as well as potential delays from a stop-work mandate for all BRAC construction projects.

“Wetland and stream mitigation banks provide a vital service to the Army to maintain compliance with the Clean Water Act as well as help the environment by ensuring the preservation of wetlands and streams for our future,” Clark said.

A mitigation bank is an area of land where the wetlands and streams have been restored and are available for the purchase of credits to offset the loss of wetlands and streams in other areas. Commercial mitigation banks are regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to preserve, enhance or restore a wetland or stream area.

Some mitigation activities include restoring natural steam conditions by removing dams and culverts; planting mass producing species in areas that have been timbered or flooded; replacing monocultures of young red maple and sweet gum trees by thinning and planting more desirable hardwood species such as black gum, cypress, ash and oak; and reducing hydrologic extremes by restoring natural landscapes.

The process usually involves an area where wetlands and streams have been impacted by construction or erosion or sedimentation. These areas are then used to offset other areas where change causes the loss of wetlands or streams. The offset is achieved through the purchase of credits that guarantee an equal amount of wetlands or streams are preserved in the vicinity of the wetlands or streams that were impacted as a result of change.

The Clean Water Act of 1997 requires compensatory mitigation to offset any wetlands or streams impacted as a result of changes. Additionally, Army policy mandates no net loss of wetlands or streams as a result of changes to an installation. To be in compliance with the law and Army policy, Fort Benning officials purchased approximately $2 million in wetland and stream credits from a mitigation bank.