WASHINGTON (Inman News Features) - Final regulations issued last week by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect habitat of commercial fish species only marginally improve the permit review process for builders constructing homes in protected areas, according to the National Association of Home Builders. "We are disappointed that the new NMFS regulations essentially imitate existing rules, and thus fail to address the fundamental concerns of home builders whose projects are near protected waters," said NAHB President Bruce Smith, a home builder from Walnut Creek, Calif. "Time-consuming and duplicative regulations drive up the cost of building a home and price borderline buyers out of the market."

A $1,000 increase in home prices means 300,000 fewer households can qualify for a mortgage on a typical home, according to the home builders? group.

Smith said NMFS also failed to substantially change existing Essential Fish Habitat designations for several species, including the Pacific salmon in the Northwest. The builders? group said it would continue litigation it began last year against the government fisheries service.

But Smith acknowledged that the new rules represent some improvement from the old regulations because they clarify that certain permit consultations with the service aren?t binding and they allow federal permitting agencies to combine certain consultations with other existing environmental review processes.