E&E News on Milburnie and Dam Removal for Mitigation

INFRASTRUCTURE
Clean Water Act may offer ‘magic key’ for dam removal
Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E News reporter
Published: Monday, December 11, 2017

 

An environmental mitigation firm, Restoration Systems, tearing down the Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River outside Raleigh, N.C. The company will turn a profit on the credits it sells from the removal, and advocates say their model could fund dam removals across the country.

 

When environmentalists press for the removal of river-choking old dams, George Howard can smell the money.

Howard’s company is tearing down the Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River outside Raleigh, N.C. The 15-foot impoundment stretches 625 feet across the river, blocking fish runs and creating a deadly hydraulic trap that’s drowned 15 swimmers.

Milburnie is Howard’s third North Carolina dam removal. As with the other two, he will turn a profit using a tool called mitigation banking.
“This could create a long-term mechanism that could slowly drive dam removals across the country that cannot be funded now,” he said in an interview.

Howard’s company, Restoration Systems, capitalizes on provisions in the Clean Water Act that aim for “no net loss” of wetlands and streams by requiring anyone wanting to destroy riverbed, marshes, bogs or swamps to offset the damage by creating and restoring habitat elsewhere.

Howard was among the first to recognize dam removals make good mitigation banks. He does restoration up front then sells credits to developers or highway builders who need Clean Water Act permits.

Almost 250 miles of the Neuse River will be dam-free after Milburnie is torn down in the next few months. The only remaining impoundment will be Falls Lake Dam upstream, whose reservoir holds most of Raleigh’s water supply. It’s not going anywhere.

The Milburnie removal will directly revive 6 miles of the Neuse. North Carolina will likely buy that mitigation to offset the expansion of the state capital’s outer-loop highway, Howard said.

He views his work as the future of environmentalism.

“Ultimately, we can’t pay to fix everything we screwed up, and we can’t stop everything in the future,” he said. “The best we can do is leverage what is going to occur — it’s unavoidable. Leverage the inevitability of well-regulated development to do the restoration that we need to do.”

It’s a philosophy that others — including some environmentalists — are beginning to appreciate for dam removals.

The Nature Conservancy recently concluded in a white paper that removing dams and culverts provide more successful mitigation than other efforts.

“If you remove a dam, you realize a lot of benefits for people and nature, and those benefits are usually enduring and sustainable,” said Jessica Wilkinson, an author of the report. “Dam removals — improving connectivity — can be and should be an appropriate method” for mitigation.

To some, mitigation represents a silver bullet for financing dam removals.

Public and private investments in compensatory mitigation is “conservatively” estimated at $3.8 billion annually, according to a widely cited 2015 paper on the “restoration economy” by University of North Carolina professor Todd BenDor. Some in the industry estimate that figure is now as high as $5 billion.

“Conceptually, it’s a great idea,” said Steven Stockton, former director of civil works and dam safety officer for the Army Corps of Engineers.

But Stockton pointed out the obstacles, the biggest being that someone’s got to foot the bill for mitigation that typically must take place in the same watershed as the development. Another is that mitigation banking has never had broad political support needed to make it a Clean Water Act fixture.

Nonetheless the number of for-profit dam removals is growing. Serena McClain of American Rivers counts about two dozen dam removals for mitigation and nine others under consideration.

Annapolis, Md.-based GreenVest LLC, another mitigation firm, has been behind removals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

“It should be considered more often,” said Doug Lashley, GreenVest’s CEO.

Dam removal for mitigation also appears to be a rare example of environmental work that has bipartisan appeal.

Greens see rivers restored. Republicans see a market-driven solution, sort of akin to the acid rain cap-and-trade Clean Air Act program.

“In a way, this is a Rosetta stone,” said Mike Wicker of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North Carolina. “Biologists like me see the strong environmental uplift. And it’s a mechanism for guys in the private sector to make some money.”

Howard encapsulates that dynamic.

The 51-year-old has worked for two North Carolina Republican senators, Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth. In the mid 1990s, Howard spearheaded unsuccessful legislation from Faircloth, who sat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, to deregulate wetlands.

But Howard’s no fan of the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule — also known as Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS — which defines what marshes, streams and wetlands qualify for federal protections.

He calls the current administration “regulatory barbarians.”

“Our business depends on well-regulated environments,” he said.

Howard sensed an opportunity in the then-fledgling mitigation banking industry while working on the wetlands bill. He returned to North Carolina and launched Restoration Systems.

“It was a dramatic departure from my career,” he said. “I went from wearing Brooks Brothers suits to Carhartt pants in 90 days.”

So far, all dam removals for mitigation have occurred in the East. But many, like Howard, see potential across the country.

“The East is more obvious because the rivers are smaller, the dams are smaller and they are all really obsolete,” said former Interior Secretary and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt (D). “But there is plenty of work out here, too.”

If it’s successful, Fish and Wildlife’s Wicker believes the removal of the century-old Milburnie Dam will become a model.

 

“Milburnie is right on the edge of Raleigh,” he said. “That’s what the system is waiting for — to see if this will work for one of these contentious dams.”

‘Uplift’

Neuse River dams. The Neuse River, North Carolina’s longest, has seen a series of dam removals since the late 1990s. After the Milburnie Dam is removed, nearly 250 miles of the river will flow unimpeded. Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News

The Neuse River rises in central North Carolina’s rocky Piedmont region, winds about 275 miles east, past Raleigh, before becoming the nation’s widest river — 6 miles across — as it drains into Pamlico Sound.

It is the state’s longest river and home to several dams that generated power for paper and corn mills, Raleigh’s street cars and various other purposes. Some of the dams stretch back two centuries, and almost all of them are useless now, leading to a spree of removal projects.

In 1998, Interior Secretary Babbitt visited the area to celebrate the removal of Quaker Neck Dam near Goldsboro. Though only 17-feet tall, the impoundment effectively cut the Neuse in half for fish when it was built in 1952. Obliterating it restored about 78 miles of the Neuse main stem to migratory fish like shad and striped bass, as well as some 900 miles of its tributaries.

The same year, the nearby Cherry Hospital Dam was also taken out. Rains Mill Dam, upstream on a tributary, came out the following year.

Mike Wicker. Photo credit: Wicker/Special to E&E News

Around that time, North Carolina launched a Dam Removal Task Force comprising state and federal agencies.

Each agency examined the state’s more than 5,600 dams and evaluated them based on various priorities — ecology, public safety, transportation and others.

Dams were given numerical values. In 2002, the state released a top 10 list of dams that should be taken out.

During that process, Wicker, the veteran FWS biologist, had an idea. What if dam removal could be used for compensatory mitigation? North Carolina, and particularly the Raleigh area, were growing rapidly, spawning development that was heavily affecting streams and wetlands.

Wicker thought dam removals would have a more lasting impact than traditional mitigation measures, which he characterized as “hard engineering” that generate an artificial landscape requiring perpetual maintenance.

“Generally with mitigation, the environment sort of gets the short end of the stick,” Wicker said.

Wicker thought using dam removals for compensatory mitigation could be a “magic key.”

“I thought this technique would be a way of really getting some uplift, not only adequate mitigation, but some bonuses,” he said.

The concept grabbed Howard’s attention. Seven of the top 10 dams on the state list have since been removed. In total, 30 dams in North Carolina have been torn down, including eight in 2016 alone, according to data from American Rivers.

Howard’s Restoration System tore down two of the Top 10: Lowell Dam in a tributary of the Neuse and Carbonton Dam on the Deep River in 2005.

Construction crews work to dismantle Milburnie dam. Photo credit: Restoration Systems

The state and cities bought the mitigation credits generated by both removals, paying Howard’s company $4.8 million for the credits from Lowell’s removal, and $12 million for those from Carbonton.

Howard said it appeared that the idea would catch on then. He has been working to remove the privately owned Milburnie Dam, the last small dam on the Neuse River and another on the state’s Top 10 list, since 2001. His company will ultimately spend more than $2 million tearing it down.

“We had great hopes for it in the mid-2000s when we took out the first two,” he said. “The agencies have been slow to catch up.”

‘This should be a win-win’

That doesn’t mean U.S. EPA and the Army Corps haven’t tried.

The Army Corps’ Wilmington District and EPA Region 4 have sought to be leaders on the issue. Beginning in 2003, the agencies have twice issued guidance “to provide a consistent method to determine mitigation credit derived from appropriate dam removal projects across North Carolina.”

“We all got together back in the early 2000s because the development pressure was so great here,” said Jean Gibby, chief of the Army Corps’ Raleigh regulatory office.

Then, in April 2008, the Obama administration issued a regulation that stated a clear preference for mitigation banking over other types of compensatory mitigation under the Clean Water Act.

A prime motivation for the rule was the main form of mitigation previously — in which the permit seeker does some sort of project on their own — wasn’t working, said Royal Gardner, a law professor at Stetson University who has written extensively on the Clean Water Act.

“It was clear that permittee responsible mitigation was not successful,” Gardner said.

Proponents of mitigation banking contend there are advantages both for the permit seeker and the regulator. For the developer, it is easier to buy credits from a bank than undertake an entire mitigation project. The credits also release them from the liability of making sure the project is successful over the long term. For the Milburnie Dam bank, for example, Howard’s company will monitor the site for seven years.

At the same time, the regulator knows the credits are bought from a bank that it has evaluated and deemed worthy.

It’s the type of regulation that pro-business conservatives support.

“This is an area with the proper amount of policy and guidance from the federal government pushed down districts” could lead to “a lot of dams being removed and providing compensatory mitigation,” said Murray Starkel of Ecological Service Partners, another mitigation banker who sees potential for dam removal banks in the Pacific Northwest.

“This should be a win-win.”

The Obama administration rule boosted the mitigation bank market for stream restoration, according to the Nature Conservancy white paper. The number of mitigation banks across the country providing stream mitigation credits jumped from 141 in 2008 to more than 300 in 2014.

Both 2008 efforts have since encountered challenges.

The North Carolina guidance has been repeatedly withdrawn, most recently in 2011, in part due to resistance from traditional stream mitigation companies.

“It scared people because it was precedent-setting and different,” Wicker said.

Milburnie dam before it was removed. Photo credit: Restoration Systems
The 15-foot high, 625-foot wide Milburnie Dam before it was removed. More than 100 years old, the dam creates dangerous hydraulic suction and has drowned 15 swimmers. Restoration Systems
The Army Corps’ Gibby said the document was rescinded largely due to technical issues, including difficulty reconciling it with the national mitigation rule.

“Like anything, when you first do something you are going to find that it’s not perfect the first time,” she said.

That Obama-era rule is also now in jeopardy; the Trump administration has listed it as one it will re-evaluate and possibly repeal.

Mitigation bankers also say regulators approve projects much more quickly than banks.

‘Neither side agrees with it’

The 15-foot high, 625-foot wide Milburnie Dam before it was removed. More than 100 years old, the dam creates dangerous hydraulic suction and has drowned 15 swimmers.

Overall, mitigation banking has never had a large contingent of political backers in either party, Howard said.

Many conservatives don’t like it because they don’t agree with federal regulations, while many greens are suspicious of it as a potential spur for development.

“Mitigation banking is good policy, but it has never had a lover,” Howard said. “That’s a hell of a policy if neither side agrees with it. But that means it’s a good policy.”

Matthew Starr of the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper acknowledged that mitigation banking is “a little bit of a Catch-22.”

“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need mitigation. It would be removed because that’s what’s best for the environment and the public,” he said.

But, he added, “in any political climate this is necessary because it’s the only way it’s going to be done.”

Wicker, the folksy FWS biologist, turned metaphoric when asked the significance of the Milburnie Dam removal.

“A blind hog finds an acorn every now and then,” he said. “I think we are about to eat a great big acorn.”

Jesuit Bend profiled in ‘good news’ Christmas Day Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

Gulf Coast writer Quin Hillyer did an incredible job making Jesuit Bend’s complex story interesting and readable in an op-ed last week. Ecological facts, policy insight, local perspective and technical specs all wrapped up with a bow. We are thrilled and grateful at RS to be a good news item in America’s largest newspaper on Christmas Day.

Here is the link at WSJ.com.

How Markets Can Restore Louisiana¹s Marshes – WSJ[11] by Restoration Systems, LLC

New Orleans Public Radio and The Advocate cover Jesuit Bend and mitigation banking

Tegan Wendland of WWNO, the New Orleans public radio station, and Amy Wold of the Baton Rogue and New Orleans Advocate, did nice work with recent stories concerning Jesuit Bend and the mitigation industry. I sometimes feel for reporters covering mitigation banking. By necessity, they must explain the regulatory and policy background of banking, which, if properly done, takes at least a few minutes or several columns of print. And then, somewhere in the story, an actual mitigation bank and commercial enterprise must be described, with all the financial, ecological and regulatory context that entails. Tegan manages the challenge well in this segment. I was also excited to see that she used an RS video and photo, it is hard for reporters to catch some of the best scenes during the construction process, so the use of our digital material is always welcome.

On the radio segment, it was disappointing to hear Mark Davis of Tulane give faint praise (at best) to mitigation banking. And I hope his quote that a mitigation bank is not “true restoration” was abbreviated from a fuller discussion. I think he was attempting to communicate that a mitigation bank cannot be counted as “additive” to the wetland resource base since other acres — potentially equal acres — are permitted for destruction. That is true to an extent, but begs the question, should we not compensate for damage simply because it might only result in no-net-loss? He answers that question in an earlier statement, saying such impacts would be avoided and minimized…in “a perfect world.” Hmmmm.

wwno logo

WNNO: Restoration Work Profitable For ‘Mitigation Banks’

By TEGAN WENDLAND, November 23, 2015

There is a giant pipe that runs four miles from the Mississippi River over land to an expanse of open water just south of Belle Chasse on the West Bank. Rich murky river water spews from the pipe, so that the mud will settle and build new land. This open water used to be healthy marsh.

George Howard, a North Carolinan with a hearty laugh, plans to make it healthy again. He’s the CEO of Restoration Systems.

His giant rubber boots stuck in the mud on a sunny day as he watched excavators spread the sediment out in the swamp to build land. It’s a noisy, messy job, “That is the absolute brand-newest part of the state of Louisiana. It is a nice kind of darkish-grey color that is a mixture of sand which has come from everywhere from Colorado to Minnesota to Tennessee.”

See the entire story here at WWNOBaton-Rouge-Advocate-Logo-590x1441The Advocate: Private companies restoring wetlands in Plaquemines Parish are employing mitigation bank process

By AMY WOLD, NOV 25, 2015

A private wetlands creation project in Plaquemines Parish, with the size and complexity of state-built coastal restoration work, expects to take advantage of a mitigation bank to bring back wetlands near the Mississippi River and make a profit at the same time.

Mitigation banks are a vehicle by which a company doing habitat restoration work earns credits that it can then sell to other companies doing projects that damage wetlands or other habitats. Companies receive credits before the project begins, once it’s finished, three years after completion and seven years after completion.

The credits received before a project begins are often used as startup funds for the project.

The Plaquemines project started about five years ago when George Howard, CEO of Restoration Systems in Raleigh, North Carolina, learned there were going to be opportunities for mitigation banks in southeast Louisiana as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started looking for credits following the completion of the massive New Orleans levee project.

See the entire story here at The Advocate

 

Jesuit Bend project on Fox 8 New Orleans

Full text and video from the Fox 8 website

By Rob Masson —

It’s a first of it’s kind project, just below Belle Chasse. Dozens of acres of new wetlands are being created in an area, that was once thriving, thanks to a unique new approach that could be implemented in other damaged coastal areas. It took thousands of years to build and just over 100 to disappear, but building it back won’t happen overnight.

“When it comes out of the pipe, an excavator spreads it away, so it doesn’t clog the pipe itself,” said George Howard with ‘Restoration Systems’. River sediment must be scraped off of the bottom with huge dredges like the Florida, then pumped five miles under roads and over the same levees blamed for choking off wetlands in order to recreate them.

FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Jesuit Bend in the news

For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thick coffee-with-cream colored sludge will be pumped directly from a mammoth dredge on the river to an expanse of marshy lake behind Jesuit Bend.To take a tour from the dredge operation sucking up the Mississippi mud to a pipe spouting the material into the marsh, it appears to be land building at its most efficient.

Bill approved by Senate would reduce stream mitigation in NC

See article here at News and Observer

By Rose Rimler
rrimler@newsobserver.com

When developers build on or divert a stream in North Carolina, they typically have to compensate for that environmental loss by restoring or conserving a similar site elsewhere.

It’s a process called “mitigation,” and the federal Clean Water Act requires it for damaged or destroyed streams and wetlands, but leaves it up to the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to set specific rules. States also issue their own certifications.

A bill passed by the state Senate in early July would increase the state’s threshold for how much development would trigger mitigation, from 150 feet of perennial or year-round streams to 300 feet. It also would eliminate requirements to mitigate for damage done to intermittent streams, those that flow only during times of heavy rain.

The proposal is one of several in a regulation reform bill that the N.C. Conservation Network, a coalition of environmental groups, calls a “polluter protection bill.”

“You get a front-end impact of destroying the stream, and on the back end you’re not benefiting any other streams,” said Grady McCallie, the network’s policy director. “It’s pretty much a lose-lose for the environment.”

Supporters of the bill say it would provide relief for North Carolina citizens overburdened by rules and regulations. Sponsors of a similar proposal from earlier in the year said such policy changes are meant to protect property rights and correct unintended consequences of previous legislation.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican from Guilford County who supports the bill, said it would “increase government efficiency, reduce unnecessary burdens on citizens and business, and protect private property rights.”

Representatives of the N.C. Home Builders Association, whose members would stand to benefit from the change, did not respond to requests for comment.

Fewer regulations

The “Regulatory Reform Act,” House Bill 765, would cut regulations and statutes it describes as “unnecessary or outdated” and “cumbersome.” It began life in the House as a one-page proposal concerning the transportation of gravel but emerged from the Senate as a 58-page deregulation omnibus.

“The Bill was basically hijacked in the Senate, and all these other and more controversial components were added,” Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Republican from Forsyth County, said in an email. He said the Forsyth delegation introduced the gravel bill in response to a request from the city of Winston-Salem.

The House voted not to concur with the Senate’s version of the bill on July 22, and it is now slated to be discussed in a conference committee. Wade declined to comment on the provisions added in the Senate, saying that the bill is likely to change substantially after conference.

Other environmental regulations in the bill would allow companies to self-report environmental violations to the state; request the removal of air quality monitors not required by the federal government; repeal restrictions against heavy vehicles idling for more than five minutes an hour; and repeal legislation regarding the recycling of electronics, among others.

Environmentalists are also critical of another regulatory reform bill, HB 44, that would decrease the width of streamside vegetation that must be kept free of many kinds of development. Such buffers are a means of keeping nutrients, like fertilizer and wastewater runoff, as well as excess dirt, from entering streams. The buffer requirement came into being after a series of large fish kills in the Neuse River in the 1990s.

Less mitigation

Even if the General Assembly rolls back the mitigation requirements for developers, some streams still will be protected by federal regulations. Individual districts of the Army Corps of Engineers set permitting requirements, and the Wilmington district sets the threshold for mitigation at 150 feet for both perennial and intermittent streams. Those requirements would not be affected by changes to state law.

But the Corps does not require mitigation, or requires less mitigation, for streams that it considers degraded to begin with, such as those in urban areas that are already developed. That means that if the state changes the law, then there will be less mitigation, said John Dorney, a retired DENR environmental supervisor. It would just be a question of how much.

Less mitigation could be bad for local environmental businesses, said John Preyer, president of the Raleigh-based mitigation company Restoration Systems.

Companies like his buy and restore land that is approved for mitigation purposes by a state and federal review board. This creates mitigation “credits” that the companies sell to developers.

Preyer said that certainty in the laws regarding mitigation enable his company to buy land in advance of a commitment from a customer to buy the credits.

“House Bill 765 removes that certainty and threatens to undermine the emerging green industry of environmental mitigation in North Carolina by doubling the amount of stream which can be destroyed without requiring offsetting mitigation,” Preyer wrote in a statement he delivered to the legislature last month.

The environmental effects of reducing stream habitat could be wide-reaching, said Matthew Starr of the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation.

Intermittent streams are typically headwaters and smaller branches off main channels of larger rivers, Starr said.

“There’s got to be the understanding that these aren’t ditches,” he said. “They provide a number of qualities to the economy, to ecosystems, to drinking water resources, to quality of life. … We’re talking about waters of the United States that serve an importance to our environment, economy, and quality of life.”

Rimler: 919-829-4526

Leading Environmental Restoration and Mitigation Banking Firm Expands Reach Into Conservation Banking

Lesser Prairie Chicken to Benefit From Partnership

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 5, 2013 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Raleigh-based Restoration Systems, LLC is pleased to announce its new partnership with Common Ground Capital, LLC (CGC), headquartered in Edmond, Oklahoma. Restoration Systems has a long history of pioneering and establishing stream, wetland, and water quality mitigation banks in 10 states. Its investment in CGC represents the firm’s entrance into species banking, CGC’s area of expertise.

The partnership will provide the capital and strategic resources needed to enable CGC to complete execution of landscape-scale species conservation banks. These banks will compensate for the destruction of the Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat. CGC has secured 86,000 acres across the Lesser Prairie Chicken’s habitat range in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This land will be used for Prairie Chicken Conservation Banks, each with a minimum of 10,000 acres.

“Restoration Systems is proud to support these conservation banks with an investment in Common Ground Capital,” said George Howard, Co-Founder and CEO, Restoration Systems. “Our 15-year track record of permanently restoring and protecting key habitats as wetland and stream mitigation banks fits perfectly with CGC’s business plan. We are having great success restoring prairie ecosystems in Texas and think our land management skills and financing will contribute to CGC’s efforts across Southern Plain states and beyond.”

Conservation banks are the preferred way to mitigate the damage done to a species as a result of development impacts on its habitat. Currently pending federal regulations to protect Prairie Chickens will require mitigation for future damage to their habitat from all forms of energy and other traditional development impacts. Conservation banks will satisfy these requirements and, moreover, benefit the species under any scenario.

“I’m excited about having an experienced partner in Restoration Systems to complement our valued relationships with our landowners,” said Wayne Walker, Principal, Common Ground Capital. “We are building a responsible business that implements large-scale conservation projects while delivering meaningful net benefits to the habitat and the wildlife we seek to protect, preserve or restore in the future. These landscape size projects will allow us to provide mitigation credits to our customers that are reasonably priced and comply with the high regulatory standards of the conservation banking guidelines established by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service.”

About Restoration Systems, LLCRestoration Systems is a leading environmental restoration and mitigation banking firm with more than 50 mitigation banks and turn-key restoration sites in 10 states. The company’s projects total more than 25,000 acres of wetlands and 60 miles of creeks, streams, rivers and bayous.

About Common Ground Capital, LLCCommon Ground Capital is a conservation banking company focused on developing a portfolio of landscape-scale species conservation banks for the Lesser Prairie Chicken across five states in the Southern Plains. Prior to starting CGC, company founder Wayne Walker had a successful career in the renewable energy industry.

SOURCE Restoration Systems, LLC

Copyright (C) 2013 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

 

Spartina: A Boat to Honor a Legacy

Coastal Review Online

TOPICS: COASTAL CULTURENCCF IN THE NEWSNORTHEAST COAST

By Catherine Kozak

In honor of Dwight McKinney, the N.C. Coastal Federation will use his 39-foot boat renamed “Spartina” for public education and research in Manteo. Photo: Bill Birkemeier

WANCHESE — Dwight McKinney was an outdoorsman personified. He reveled in the quiet solitude of hunting, but nothing made him happier than spending hours on the water on his 39-foot Cambridge boat with his wife and three kids. He died in November at age of 42 in a boating accident. He’d probably be pleased that his beloved boat will continue to be used for the public to share the joy of being on the water.In honor of McKinney’s legacy, his widow sold the boat to the N.C. Coastal Federation below its market value to use out of its Manteo office for public education and research. Renamed the Spartina, the boat was christened recently at Thicket Lump Marina in Wanchese with about two dozen federation board members and supporters cheering the donation as a fitting way to remember McKinney.

“Anything that involved getting people outdoors in coastal North Carolina he would love,” Mary-Margaret McKinney, his widow and co-owner of their Edenton-based wetlands mitigation business, Carolina Silvics, said in a later telephone interview. “The outreach potential is a way to make people more aware of the natural area around them.”

Carolina Silvics has worked closely on several planting and invasive plant removal projects with the federation, which had been clients of the business for more than 10 years. While McKinney was reviewing the federation’s recently completed 430-acre planting project at North River Farms after Dwight’s death, she was struck with the idea that his boat would be perfect as a research vessel for the nonprofit conservation group.

With the appreciative blessing from the federation’s executive director Todd Miller, McKinney sold the boat to the federation for $15,000, or about $10,000 less than its appraised value. Then Lloyd Glover, vice-president of Land Mechanics Design in Willow Spring, and John Preyer, president of Restoration Systems in Raleigh volunteered to help raise the sales price. Both had worked with Dwight on many projects over the years. Others, including Ed Temple at Restoration Systems, also contributed to the effort.

“We all wanted to do something to honor Dwight’s memory,” Preyer said, standing beside the gleaming white boat at the dock. “He was just a great guy.”


Ladd Bayliss said the shallow draft vessel, built in 1974, is styled like the old Chesapeake Bay crab boats. Its blue-painted bead board cabin had been re-done by Dwight. Photo: Bill Birkemeier

Preyer recalled that one of Dwight’s notable qualities was his reliability and solid work ethic. “If he told you he would do it, he did it,” Preyer said. “And that’s a rare thing.”McKinney said that her husband had bought the vessel, then named The Heritage Lady, in 2009 to oyster in the fall on the Pamlico Sound, but within a couple of years, the effects of storms made oystering commercially unviable. He continued to use the boat for recreational fishing, but it soon evolved into a group activity. He even built a cover in the middle of the deck to provide shade and shelter from the elements.

“It was our family pleasure boat,” McKinney said. “You could find us out most any day on the Albemarle Sound. It was a great boat for a family with young kids. She was steady, she was safe.”

Ladd Bayliss, the federation’s coastal advocate in Manteo, said that Manteo has been receptive to allowing the Spartina to be moored at their town docks. Bayliss said the shallow draft vessel, built in 1974, is styled like the old Chesapeake Bay crab boats. Its blue-painted bead board cabin had been re-done by Dwight, Bayliss said, and the boat was in sound condition and needed just minor restoration.

The name “Spartina” was chosen because the hardy grass, known as “the hero of the estuary,” was often used by Dwight in his business for marsh plantings.

McKinney described her husband, who grew up in Greenville, as a devoted father to their children, Luke, Catie and Rhett, and as an honorable, respectful and humble person. At 6-foot 1-inches and 230 pounds, he was a strong, muscular man who was known for his gentle nature.

“He was a true Southern gentleman,” she said.  “I’ve always said he was the greatest man I’ve ever known.”

The couple met in high school, and later they both earned master degrees in forestry. After launching their business in 1999, Dwight handled the work in the field, and Mary-Margaret handled the office. When Dwight died, the couple had been together for 24 years.


Mary-Margaret and Dwight McKinney. Photo source: Mary-Margaret McKinney

Shortly before his death, McKinney said that her husband was gearing the boat up for recreational striper fishing. The morning of the accident, she said, he was trolling for stripers in Albemarle Sound. Later review of GPS readings showed that he had stopped the boat and turned around. An older couple witnessed him slipping off the bow of the boat and flailing in the water.

McKinney said that, being the intelligent outdoorsman that he was, Dwight had the sense to take off his boots. He was also a good swimmer. It seems that the fatal accident happened when he was getting back into the boat.“When I saw him in the hospital, he had a knot on his head the size of my fist,” she said. “We think that the boat came down directly on his head.”

With the help of sonar, his body was found under the boat about 24 hours later.

The lesson McKinney sees is that everyone who is out on the water alone should wear a life jacket – if not for themselves, for the sake of their loved ones.

“If he had a life jacket on, maybe things would have turned out differently that day,” she said.

More than 300 people came to Dwight’s visitation, something that his friends joked would have made the introverted man uncomfortable, McKinney said.

“He was happy outdoors, and that meant that wasn’t around a lot of people,” his wife said. “If there were (that many) people inside his house, he would be outside.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Catherine Kozak

Catherine Kozak has been a reporter and writer on the Outer Banks since 1995. She worked for 15 years for “The Virginian Pilot.” Born and raised in the suburbs outside New York City, Catherine earned her journalism degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz. During her career, she has written about dozens of environmental issues, including oil and gas exploration, wildlife habitat protection, sea level rise, wind energy production, shoreline erosion and beach nourishment. She lives in Nags Head.

Leading Environmental Restoration and Mitigation Banking Firm Expands Reach Into Conservation Banking

Lesser Prairie Chicken to Benefit From Partnership

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 5, 2013 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Raleigh-based Restoration Systems, LLC is pleased to announce its new partnership with Common Ground Capital, LLC (CGC), headquartered in Edmond, Oklahoma. Restoration Systems has a long history of pioneering and establishing stream, wetland, and water quality mitigation banks in 10 states. Its investment in CGC represents the firm’s entrance into species banking, CGC’s area of expertise.

The partnership will provide the capital and strategic resources needed to enable CGC to complete execution of landscape-scale species conservation banks. These banks will compensate for the destruction of the Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat. CGC has secured 86,000 acres across the Lesser Prairie Chicken’s habitat range in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This land will be used for Prairie Chicken Conservation Banks, each with a minimum of 10,000 acres.

“Restoration Systems is proud to support these conservation banks with an investment in Common Ground Capital,” said George Howard, Co-Founder and CEO, Restoration Systems. “Our 15-year track record of permanently restoring and protecting key habitats as wetland and stream mitigation banks fits perfectly with CGC’s business plan. We are having great success restoring prairie ecosystems in Texas and think our land management skills and financing will contribute to CGC’s efforts across Southern Plain states and beyond.”

Conservation banks are the preferred way to mitigate the damage done to a species as a result of development impacts on its habitat. Currently pending federal regulations to protect Prairie Chickens will require mitigation for future damage to their habitat from all forms of energy and other traditional development impacts. Conservation banks will satisfy these requirements and, moreover, benefit the species under any scenario.

“I’m excited about having an experienced partner in Restoration Systems to complement our valued relationships with our landowners,” said Wayne Walker, Principal, Common Ground Capital. “We are building a responsible business that implements large-scale conservation projects while delivering meaningful net benefits to the habitat and the wildlife we seek to protect, preserve or restore in the future. These landscape size projects will allow us to provide mitigation credits to our customers that are reasonably priced and comply with the high regulatory standards of the conservation banking guidelines established by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service.”

About Restoration Systems, LLCRestoration Systems is a leading environmental restoration and mitigation banking firm with more than 50 mitigation banks and turn-key restoration sites in 10 states. The company’s projects total more than 25,000 acres of wetlands and 60 miles of creeks, streams, rivers and bayous.

About Common Ground Capital, LLCCommon Ground Capital is a conservation banking company focused on developing a portfolio of landscape-scale species conservation banks for the Lesser Prairie Chicken across five states in the Southern Plains. Prior to starting CGC, company founder Wayne Walker had a successful career in the renewable energy industry.

SOURCE Restoration Systems, LLC

Copyright (C) 2013 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/leading-environmental-restoration-and-mitigation-banking-firm-expands-reach-into-conservation-banking-2013-09-05

Texas launches eco-credit trading to mitigate development impacts

 

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter

HOUSTON — One of the largest highway construction projects in the country promises to deliver more urban sprawl to already-diffuse Houston when it is completed in 2019, threatening vast swaths of untouched natural areas.

State Highway 99, or the Grand Parkway, will become the third freeway loop to circle the greater metropolitan area here, alleviating congestion in some places but inevitably encouraging this fast-growing city to further expand its footprint.

But a new Army Corps of Engineers-administered ecological credit trading system being introduced in the state is viewed by developers as a potential game changer in the struggle to balance conservation and city growth.

Adjacent to the highway project, work crews began construction this week on the nation’s largest “stream mitigation bank” project, a market-based approach to mitigating losses of creeks, streams and smaller waterways affected by development.

The project, undertaken in conjunction with a local conservation group called the Katy Prairie Conservancy, seeks to restore more than 110,000 feet of streams lost to earlier development at a site managed by the conservancy on the Warren Ranch, the largest operating cattle ranch in Harris County. Officials involved in the project say it will serve as a template for this city’s future growth, ensuring that development in one part of the watershed will be met first with protections and ecological mitigation in another part of it.

The project, paid for by the sale of environmental mitigation credits to the highway project, will also potentially create revenues the conservancy can use to purchase and protect other parts of what is left of the historic Gulf Coast prairie that used to dominate Harris County, now almost completely swallowed by the city’s relentless growth.

Mary Anne Piacentini, director of the Katy Prairie Conservancy, said the arrangement will earn her organization enough funds to pay off the debt it took to acquire the ranch and create that portion of the preserve. The conservancy owns 72 percent of Warren Ranch, while family members control the rest.

“Clearly the money is important, and it will … allow us to ensure the permanent protection of the ranch,” Piacentini said. “But it also is important because it is really improving habitat on the ranch, not just the streams themselves, but the banks of the streams and the flood way and floodplain and the improved grasslands that are going to be on either side lining the creeks.”

Under the new Army Corps system, which the agency began crafting in 2008, construction projects that would cross or otherwise affect waterways in Houston’s watershed would have to receive a special permit to be allowed to continue. Developers have the option to avoid the impact entirely, minimize it as much as possible or mitigate the damage by restoring an equal amount of waterway in a different part of that watershed.

The stream mitigation bank project on the Katy Prairie will offset damage to other waterways at points where the massive Grand Parkway will be built. Click the map for a larger version. Map courtesy of Restoration Systems LLC.

The system allows third-party developers to manage their own restoration projects and bank credits for doing so. Later projects can then purchase those credits from these mitigation banks to meet regulations and proceed with construction.

Mitigation banking has been up and running in North Carolina for a few years but had yet to be introduced to Texas. George Howard, president of Restoration Systems LLC, said this initial project will serve as a template for future development mitigation banking throughout Houston and eventually across all of expanding Texas. Restoration Systems is the firm leading the Katy Prairie stream mitigation bank project.

“We made the largest sale in the history of the mitigation industry to the Grand Parkway, for segments F1, F2 and G,” Howard explained. “As Houston grows west, it’s going to demand mitigation, and then that will drive the restoration of the Katy Prairie and the Warren Ranch.”

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates that the Katy Prairie — a popular birding spot and home to a variety of species — once covered an area of 500,000 to 750,000 acres before development began, first in the form of rice farms and later as subdivisions. Little remains; Piacentini estimates that less than 20 percent is in “OK” condition, while perhaps 1 percent is considered “pristine.”

And a booming Houston economy is still putting pressure on the land. Plans for thousands of new homes and businesses are in the works for both sides of the route along the future Highway 99 toll road.

Segment E of the parkway, scheduled to open to traffic in late 2013, was permitted under the old system and is not contributing to the current stream construction. But the other three segments of the highway that will link Houston’s north suburbs will cross more waterways, and the state highway department is required to purchase conservation credits to get the permits it needs.

The city is eager to open segments F1, F2 and G in time for the opening of a massive new corporate campus that Exxon Mobil Corp. is building in the northern suburb of the Woodlands. To offset the damage caused by those three segments to north and northwest Harris County waterways, the Grand Parkway project will purchase banked mitigation credits from Restoration Systems, covering the cost of the Katy Prairie project and possibly more conservation initiatives.

Howard said it took the group four years to secure the permit for its stream mitigation project, but he said the delay was expected. Having never administered such a system in its area of jurisdiction before, the Army Corps of Engineers’ office in Galveston essentially had to develop standard operating procedures. Future projects will experience fewer bureaucratic hurdles, officials predict.

Building streams

During a recent tour of the stream restoration project site, Lee Forbes, a fluvial geomorphologist and president of Forbes Consultancy PLLC, explained the team’s plan for building — sometimes almost from scratch — more than 100,000 feet of streams that will be nearly identical to natural streams that once were found on the ranch.

Before the banking method was introduced, construction projects could offset their ecological impact by funding wetland restoration elsewhere in the region. The new rules specifying mitigation of streams bring greater technological challenges, Forbes said.

“Stream impacts, which prior to this were able to be mitigated with wetlands, now have to be mitigated with streams,” Forbes said. “And streams are a lot more complex to design, build and maintain, and they have different function, ecological function, than a wetland.”

Earlier settlers to the site worked to straighten out some streams and create a direct path to their tributaries, believing that was better for moving water efficiently and for flood control. But natural streams engineer themselves to move both water and sediment in the most economic manner that nature allows, creating the winding paths that creeks and rivers take in near-flat terrain.

Blueprints of the first phase of the project show what Forbes and others involved have planned. The course is deliberately windy and crosses much of the existing straight channel several times. Crews will also build the stream to have different depths at different places, and trees and branches will be carefully inserted in places to brace the walls of the stream, just as naturally fallen trees do for wild streams.

“A stream functions best when it has easy access to the floodplain. That’s how it builds itself, how it manages its energy,” Forbes said. “We’re putting back in ripples, runs, pools and glides. … It’s a very complex science.”

Stream construction is so complex that advanced computer models and the latest satellite-driven surveying equipment have to be laid out to plot the best meandering path to take. Local construction crews are also unschooled in the idea, requiring extra training, Forbes said.

“The contractors that do it have been from other states where they have been doing it a lot longer,” he said. “We have a mission here in Houston to start training the local contractors on how to do this.”

Future of conservation?

Technical challenges aside, both Forbes and Howard are convinced that the market-driven approach behind the mitigation banking concept is the future of environmental conservation across the United States.

Restoration Systems estimates it will generate about 250,000 credits from just this project, each credit selling to construction projects for about $250. As the first project, the Katy Prairie stream mitigation bank is being priced in the absence of competition, but Howard expects more actors to enter the fray and force credit prices lower as Houston continues to grow. City leaders believe Houston will overtake Chicago as the nation’s third most populous city by 2030.

Conservation through market-based credit trading systems has detractors. A similar project proposed by U.S. EPA for Chesapeake Bay is facing a court challenge by environmentalists who allege that credit trading will invite fraud and abuse (Greenwire, Oct. 3).

But the Army Corps of Engineers and the forces behind the pilot in Texas seem convinced that the concept is proved to work and may be one of the best methods for balancing development and environmental protection.

“There could be additional banks, and then it would be a competitive market that sells to the impactor at the best rate, so it’s a market-driven ecosystem management,” Forbes said. “Meanwhile, economic development and growth are restoring some of the last vestiges of native prairie and streams in the country.”

Piacentini says she’s equally enthusiastic about the concept and the millions of dollars her organization will receive from it. She is looking for other market-based conservation models that the Katy Prairie could tap into, to grab hold of more tracts of land to preserve ahead of the expanding zone of concrete.

The stream mitigation bank going up now is a prime example of the obvious benefit, she said.

“It will give us water. It will give us a place to put trails. It will allow us to improve the water quality in that stretch of the various tributaries to Cypress Creek,” Piacentini said. “And it will also just ensure that there are places that continue to be available for wildlife.”

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Greenwire is written and produced by the staff of E&E Publishing, LLC. The one-stop source for those who need to stay on top of all of today’s major energy and environmental action with an average of more than 20 stories a day, Greenwire covers the complete spectrum, from electricity industry restructuring to Clean Air Act litigation to public lands management. Greenwire publishes daily at 1 p.m.

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