Restoration Systems featured in Triangle Business Journal

Surprisingly perhaps, over seventeen years in business RS has never had a “business” article written about our firm. We have had specific projects covered as ecological interest stories, and even some controversy, but never a word in the business pages or the local biz journal.

But last year we decided finally to show some leg and entered the Triangle Business Journal’s ‘Fast Fifty’ growing companies competition. We were surprised (to say the least if you saw us jumping up and down) to place….drum roll please….#2!!

One thing led to another and RS was the featured company in TBJ this week. Considering how dynamic and prosperous our region is, it is a genuine thrill to be covered so well in these pages. Amanda Hoyle did a great job and we look forward to providing her — and you — more frequent updates regarding our progress as a business.

A business that banks on regulations by Restoration Systems, LLC

A business that banks on regulations

Friends since high school and college, George Howard and John Preyer are used to the confused looks they often get when they explain the business model of Restoration Systems LLC, the company they started together in 1998.

The company specializes in environmental mitigation banking, a field of business that didn’t exist before 1995. That was the year that the federal guidelines for mitigation banks were established as a compromise option under the Clean Water Act of 1973, the federal government’s primary law governing water pollution.

Former U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-NC, then a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, helped craft the federal guidance for mitigation banking. And John Preyer, at the time, was serving as his legislative director.

And to that, a niche industry – and a business plan for Restoration Systems – was born.

Mitigation banks offer a third alternative that didn’t exist before for developers of roads, utilities and buildings that might be doing damage to a nearby water resource, such as a stream or wetland.

If trying to qualify for an environmental permit, a property owner or developer must:

1) Avoid the protected property altogether if possible;
2) Minimize the potential damage or impact to the property; and
3) When all else fails, mitigate.

“And in that order,” Preyer says.

“We come in at the end of the day, after they have already worked to avoid and minimize,” he says. “If you are looking for a positive environmental outcome, we are doing it.”

Restoration Systems proactively finds and buys conservation easements from property owners for the purpose of restoring streams and wetlands or protecting threatened species from the future encroachment of development and growth. Once a project has been signed off on by both federal and state agencies, the company sets up a mitigation bank, or a system in which to sell “credits” or pieces of a restored stream or wetland to help make up for any damage that might be done to a nearby water resource from another construction project. Credits can cost $14,000 each, or it might be cheaper if it’s a large transaction. The company also manages restoration projects on behalf of government partners or companies that don’t have to be sold through a mitigation bank.

Preferably, Howard says, the impacted projects “share the raindrop” with the stream or wetland property so that the damaged and the improved property impact the same body of water.

Mitigation banking is usually a last-ditch option for builders, but it’s a a growing industry that Restoration Systems is helping take nationwide.

It’s also one of the most-regulated industries in the environmental market, Howard says.

“Developers don’t want to have to pay for credits. Conservation interests don’t want development there in the first place. We have to answer to everybody,” he says. “It’s the good guys and the bad guys these days, and we like being the good guys.”

Restoration Systems is currently overseeing 50 mitigation banks and restoration sites in nine states, with a majority of them in North Carolina. It has restoration sites within the Falls Lake watershed in Raleigh and along the Cape Fear River watershed in southeastern counties.

In Texas, the company has partnered with Morehead Capital Management, a Raleigh-based hedge fund, and a Texas land trust to restore more than 20 miles of streams on the Katy Prairie near Houston. The project is the largest permitted stream mitigation bank in the U.S.

Restoration Systems is also a lead partner in the sale of off-set credits to companies in the wind, oil and energy industries across the Southern Great Plains.

Howard shows from a aerial map the desolate lands in northern Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas that Restoration Systems has invested in to preserve sufficient grassland habitats for the lesser prairie chicken, a threatened species whose population has dwindled to around 17,000 birds in recent years.

This breed of bird is particularly sensitive to things that are taller than its grassy habitat – like the oil rigs that dot the landscape of the Southern Great Plains.

“They don’t like anything over three feet tall, or they’ll stop mating,” Howard explains,

Since the company was founded, the partners estimate the company has sold about $110 million in credit inventory in fits and starts over the years. It brought in about $20 million in revenue in 2014, mostly from the sale of mitigation bank credits, which was up from $6 million in revenue in 2012, according to Chief Financial Officer Buzz Floyd.

“With these bigger projects, we’ve caught the eye of national investment firms, and the deals are getting more sophisticated,” Floyd says.

Their goal moving forward is to smooth out that revenue stream and keep a more stable inventory of credits to sell in the parts of the country where demand is expected to grow.

“We are all about regulation in our business,” Howard says. “It creates our business.”

Amanda Hoyle covers commercial and residential real estate. Follow her on Twitter @TBJrealestate

Dept of Interior to shift away from ‘project-by-project’ management

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has unveiled the outlines of a new landscape-level mitigation strategy across millions of acres of federal land that she said is designed to take the department’s agencies away from narrowly focused project-by-project assessments. The mitigation strategy includes four key objectives the department will work to implement in the coming months in an effort to take a broader approach to managing public lands – landscape-level planning, banking, in-lieu fee arrangements and other mitigation tools.
READ MORE AT  http://www.eenews.net/greenwire/2014/04/10/stories/1059997717

Conservation Groups Challenge Limited Protections for Lesser Prairie Chicken

Three conservation groups – Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians – have filed a legal challenge to force full protection of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to protect the highly imperiled bird only as “threatened” while providing special exemptions that would allow ongoing destruction of their dwindling grassland habitat.
READ MORE AT  http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/lesser-prairie-chicken-04-10-2014.html

An Oregon Wetland That Saved A Highway From Flooding

Last summer, highway officials in Oregon teamed up with a local landowner to use a nearby wetland as a natural sponge for floodwater. By removing a mile-long wall of dirt, they freed the river to spread out into its natural flood plain. Since then, even when the Necanicum has over-topped its banks, it hasn’t sent its waters to flood the highway. It’s a big change from how things used to be.
READ MORE AT:
http://ijpr.org/post/wetland-saved-highway-101-flooding?utm_referrer=http%3A//m.ijpr.org/%3Futm_referrer%3D%23mobile/10420

Even in Armenia, Environmentalists take on Hydroelectric Schemes

Environmentalists in Armenia say a strategy of building multiple hydroelectric stations to harness the country’s rivers is storing up problems for the future. Armenia lacks oil and gas reserves and is trying to develop hydroelectric power as a way of reducing its reliance on fuel imports. Ecologists, however, say that damming up rivers destroys waterways and the unique ecosystems they support. “Rivers are being turned into pipelines,” said Levon Galstyan of the All-Armenian Ecological Front. “No public consultations were organised, and people’s interests have been ignored.” Armenia has gone from having just 11 small hydroelectric power plants in 1997 to 137 small hydro power plants today, with another 77 being built. It also has bigger plants arranged in  series of two, or “cascades,” Sevan-Hrazdan and Vorotan. The construction drive is underpinned by a 2004 law which assumes that dams on mountain rivers could meet around 30 percent of Armenia’s electricity needs. That is still some distance away. As Aram Gabrielyan, head of electricity supplies at the energy ministry, points out, nuclear power provided 28 percent of the country’s power last year, 42 percent was generated by gas-fired stations, and most of the rest by hydroelectric plants. Robert Galstyan, head of the village of Marts adjacent to one of the dams, said the government’s strategy is all wrong. “Construction of hydroelectric power stations has reached such a level that in 20 or 30 years’ time, this state will be facing a social and ecological catastrophe,” he said. “There will be power stations on 90 percent of rivers, and in the dry season they will all dry up.”
READ MORE AT  http://tinyurl.com/mhe2hjh
 

NC Governor Calls for Removing Coal Ash Ponds from Waterways

As national attention remains focused on North Carolina in wake of Duke Energy’s coal ash spill into the Dan River, North Carolina’s Governor has now called on Duke Energy and North Carolina officials to address the long-term problem of coal ash storage throughout the state in the only way that will stop ongoing pollution and remove the risk of more spills: move the ash. “We’re pleased to see that Governor McCrory has recognized that removing toxic coal ash from the banks of our rivers and drinking reservoirs – the long-term solution that is working today in South Carolina – is the also right solution for North Carolina and our region,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

READ MORE AT http://bit.ly/1jOb5jv

New Home prepared for endangered American Burying Beetles

Oklahoma energy and construction companies now have another potential option for dealing with an endangered insect that has bugged operations in the state for years. For now, however, the companies still have no way to take advantage of the offering. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week approved the American Burying Beetle Conservation Bank. Operated by Edmond-based Common Ground Capital on 1,600 acres of Pittsburgh County, the conservation bank will provide a safe home for the beetle that has been listed as an endangered species since 1989.  “Conservation banking provides for a free market regulatory compliance solution,” Common Ground Capital owner Wayne Walker said. “They provide customers a lot of certainty that they are getting a competitive price on a regulatory system that’s proven.”
New rules still awaiting implementation are expected to require companies to obtain an “incidental take” permit for the beetle by purchasing conservation credits. But the rules have been delayed more than a year. The permit would remove the liability from killing or harming the beetles. “It’s not a perfect situation for us, but the American Burying Beetles situation has been pretty complex,” Walker said. “We now have part of the equation to enable a market here with our approved habitat. We’re a few months away from the ability to sell credits. We’re pretty close to having a much more improved situation than we’ve had for the last couple of years. It requires patience.”
READ MORE AT http://tinyurl.com/pauso7g
 

Steering committee wants legislation to expand Florida DEP permitting authority to protect coastal wildlife

Threatened and endangered coastal species besides just sea turtles could receive state permitting protection under legislation likely to be requested in 2015. A state steering committee that was established in 2009 to develop an ambitious statewide Florida Beaches Habitat Conservation Plan said it will seek legislation even as federal approval of a plan to be proposed is sought in the coming year. The plan and legislation would extend Department of Environmental Protection permitting to gopher tortoises and two species of threatened and endangered shorebirds and five species beach mice. The plan would provide regulatory certainty for landowners and developers, steering committee members said during a meeting in Tallahassee.
READ MORE AT  http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/article.cfm?id=36603866

How Many Trees Does It Take to Protect a Stream?

A strip of forest along a stream channel, also called a riparian forest buffer, has been proposed and used for decades as a best management practice to protect streams by filtering out contaminants from agriculture and other land uses before they can enter them. Their benefits are many, but one benefit has dominated social and political conversations, and that is their role in preventing contaminants from entering streams. A few years ago, Stroud Water Research Center proposed that riparian forest buffers also play another important role by improving the health of the stream and enabling it to provide more and better ecosystem services for both humans and wildlife — the processing of natural organic matter and pollutants, for example. Thus, a forest buffer provides a first line of defense (keeping sediment and nutrients out) as well as a secondary line of defense (keeping sediment and nutrients from moving downstream) for maintaining clean water in our streams and rivers.
READ MORE AT  http://tinyurl.com/n9s57gk
 

Pennsylvania legislature takes aim at the outdoors; Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission fight proposed merger

The Pennsylvania Legislature is threatening to merge the Pennsylvania Game Commission with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and take away their power to list or de-list threatened and endangered species. Sportsmen don’t like it when hunting and fishing turns political, and these hot-button topics are as political as it gets. Heck, hunters and anglers don’t even like the PGC and PFBC getting overly restrictive with their favorite pastimes. But now, sportsmen across the commonwealth need to be aware of a few dates in March and make their voices heard by the appropriate state representatives and senators in their areas. At stake are the future of Pennsylvania’s wildlife and habitat.
House Bill 1576, the Endangered Species Coordination Act, which would remove the ability of both the game commission and fish and boat to add or subtract wildlife from the state’s threatened and endangered species lists, could come up for a vote on the House floor as early as March 10. On March 19, game commission officials will go in front of the House Game and Fisheries Committee to discuss a number of pieces of legislation on deer management.And, on March 19, the legislative Budget and Finance Committee will hold a 10 a.m. meeting on the potential merger of PGC and PFBC into one agency, a move that would strip autonomy from each agency and seriously affect how funds will be allocated for certain programs.
Read more of this article: http://tinyurl.com/nwmkyjn
Read the bill’s text: http://tinyurl.com/oqk3fb9