Tupelo to spend thousands on wetlands

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city can build its new road through wetlands, but not without a significant cost.
Tupelo will have to pay an estimated quarter-million to half a million dollars to replace wetlands affected by the new road, commonly referred to as the northern loop, said John White of ESI engineering firm Monday.
White consults with Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Committee in its plans to build the $21 million road, a portion of which already is constructed. When finished, it will connect Coley Road in west Tupelo to the busy Barnes Crossing shopping district.
But it’ll disturb about one dozen acres of wetlands scattered throughout its roughly 4.5-mile route. Much of the affected area lies between Barnes Crossing Road and the Natchez Trace Parkway, with smaller patches elsewhere.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, wetlands are areas where water either covers the soil or is close to the soil surface most of the year – areas like bogs, marshes and swamps.
Their conditions support a variety of vegetation and wildlife not found elsewhere.
Before the road project advances, the Army Corps of Engineers must approve the city’s plans to mitigate the wetlands in question. Three options are on the table, White said.
Tupelo can either purchase credits in an existing Monroe County wetlands mitigation bank, purchase credits in a proposed Monroe County bank, or buy land within the city and convert it to a wetland.
The options range from about $200,000 to $400,000, with the priciest choice likely to earn the quickest governmental approval.
Committee member Brad Prewitt said he’d like the city to buy the land and create its own wetlands rather than spend the money elsewhere.
But White warned that option could cost more in the long run because the city must then maintain the wetlands year after year. Buying credits, while expensive, abdicates that responsibility to someone else, he said.
Still, the group will pursue that option before considering credits.
“We have already submitted a proposal to the Corps to buy our own land,” White said, “but if it turns out to cost too much or take too long, then we’ll look at our other options.”
It’s unclear how much it will cost the city to buy and develop its own wetlands. Committee chairman Greg Pirkle estimated prices at $35,000 per acre, but a private appraiser is helping determine more accurate costs.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.