The United States (US) Army Corps of Engineers and US Environmental Protection Agency share responsibility for regulating placement of fill material in coastal wetlands and open waters. However, achieving the goal of no net wetland loss has been difficult, particularly in urban regions where development pressures and environmental conditions have exacerbated wetland losses. Despite protections provided in the Clean Water Act, one significant wetland category is threatened by adherence to the rules regarding no discharge of fill: low-lying coastal wetlands subject to the effects of a changing climate, including rising sea level, higher storm surges, and flooding. Without inland migration or accretion of new sediments, coastal wetlands will be lost unless marsh surface elevations are raised. The northeastern US coastline is a hot spot that may be especially vulnerable to sea-level rise. To explore current restoration policy, three case studies were examined: Jamaica Bay, New York, disappearing marshes; Jersey City, New Jersey, Lincoln Park West marsh; and Kane Wetland Mitigation Bank in the New Jersey Meadowlands District. Questions related to projected sea-level rise, ecological topography and adjacencies, or the potential for extreme storm events and surges were not addressed in the designs of these recent restorations. Although placement of fill materials in wetlands, marshes, or open water can create unanticipated consequences, if there is stringent regulatory oversight and a transparent public process, allowing placement of fill to preserve coastal wetlands could increase coastal resiliency. We suggest that the greater danger is failing to acknowledge the predicted effects of a changing climate. Permitting decisions must take into account broader geographic areas, expanded time frames, and projected effects of climate change.
Environmental Practice 17: 46–56 (2015)