Jesuit Bend: All over Facebook and new RS website

If you are interested in following developments at Jesuit Bend, we recommend you immediately follow RS at our company Facebook page — or, if FB ain’t your thang — visit the Jesuit Bend feature page on our brand new company website.

We are populating Facebook with current and recent photos of the dredge-and-fill work from the Mississippi River:

Screenshot 2015-11-16 20.28.46

 

And the new website is increasingly filled with material of more long-term interest, like news articles, or particularly instructive photos and video:

 

Screenshot 2015-11-16 20.29.31

 

 

 

 

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

North Carolina, Neuse River Basin Dam Removal Paying Dividends for Anadromous Fish

Anadromous fish are those, such as shad, that return to freshwater to spawn after spending part of their lives in the ocean. Bennett Wynne, the North Carollina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Anadromous Fisheries Coordinator is quoted as saying “In the Neuse River, hickory shad have been more abundant. Last week, we picked up a few around Goldsboro, along with some American shad. I am cautiously optimistic about shad numbers. Removing dams is important to both species but more so for American shad because they prefer spawning on the rockier substrate above the fall line. Most of the hickory shad population is found from Kinston downstream, where Pitchkettle Creek is the historical place where fishermen catch them. Last year we had strong flows in the river and we saw a good turnout of anglers at Milburnie Dam near Raleigh in Wake County. It is great that we can have a fishery for shad that far inland.”
READ MORE AT  http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/09/3771485/neuse-shad-run-nears-peak-numbers.html?sp=/99/103/126/

We plant trees, thousands of them!

Photos of recent tree planting in the buffer zone at Bass Mountain Stream and Nutrient Bank, North Carolina
http://www.restorationsystems.com/projects/bass-mountain/


Sage Grouse Rebellion: Will listing of two small birds limit oil drilling in the West?

Almost half the land west of the Mississippi belongs to the federal government, including 48% of California, 62% of Idaho and 81% of Nevada. No surprise that the Obama Administration wants to control more. But the result could be to suppress the country’s booming oil and gas developmentIn partnership with green activists, the Department of Interior may attempt one of the largest federal land grabs in modern times, using a familiar vehicle—the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A record 757 new species could be added to the protected list by 2018. The two species with the greatest impact on private development are range birds—the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken, both about the size of a barnyard chicken. The economic stakes are high because of the birds’ vast habitat.Interior is expected to decide sometime this month whether to list the lesser prairie chicken, which inhabits five western prairie states, as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Meantime, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are considering land-use amendments to protect the greater sage grouse, which would lay the groundwork for an ESA listing next year.The sage grouse is found in 11 western states—California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Most of the areas affected are federal lands routinely used for farming, ranching, mining, road building, water projects and oil and gas drilling.
MORE AT:  http://tinyurl.com/lo6y4hj

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
 

Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) Resource Center

We love the LPC everyday, especially on Valentine’s Day! Lesser prairie chickens (LPC) once ranged all across the Southern Great Plains. Historically this area of the United States boasted both lesser and greater prairie chickens along with teeming herds of bison and pronghorn antelope, huge black-tailed prairie dog towns and mule deer in the wooded draws and canyons.

Lesser prairie chickens could be found in much of western Texas, western Oklahoma and Kansas, eastern New Mexico and southeast Colorado. This regional landscape, however, has seen many changes over the last 150 years, leading to an estimated 92% decline in this little grouse’s population. These losses are a direct result of the declining quality of habitat due to human activities such as conversion of native prairie to tilled agriculture, oil and gas exploration, urban development and suppression of naturally occurring fire.

READ MORE at http://lesserprairiechicken.com/

17,000 feet of stream restoration in Texas

Reach 5 of Warren Creek: 17,000 feet of stream restoration completed ahead of schedule by Restoration Systems for TxDOT  – 52,000 feet still to be done – compensation for impacts of under-construction segments of the Grand Parkway, Houston, Texas.

E&E: Future of Conservation?: RS Katy Prairie Bank Nation’s Leading Commercial Mitigation Project

From more pics of the project visit our public Facebook page.

To learn more about the project visit our Katy Prairie project page:

I’ve read a lot articles about mitigation banking. But this one got it just right.

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. — George Howard, E&E, October 5, 2012

Texas launches eco-credit trading to mitigate development impacts
Published:Friday, October 5, 2012 | Source: http://www.eenews.net/gw/

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.”

Want to read more stories like this?

Click here to start a free trial to E&E — the best way to track policy and markets.

About Greenwire
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.

E&E Publishing, LLC
122 C St., Ste. 722, NW, Wash., D.C. 20001.
Phone: 202-628-6500. Fax: 202-737-5299.
www.eenews.net
Login
Follow the discussion

Helping Out Kids and the Swamp Merchant

Restoration Systems’ Rookie of the Year, Ray Holz, and his roomate buddy, Wes Aycock, made an extraordinarily generous contribution recently to my children’s school. Ray and Wes help us rock and mulch the playground area at Joyner Elementary here in Raleigh.

These young men, I am absolutely certain, had other opportunities to spend their time early that Saturday morning — like sleeping. But instead they helped our school grounds committee beautify this kid-trampled chase-and-tag tract (cattle “hoof shear” comes to mind).

Ray’s contribution to the project did not begin that day, however. For nearly a year Ray has worked with Meriwether Hill, our committee chair, preparing drawings and estimates for the school’s application to the City of Raleigh for funds to solve Joyner’s persistent stormwater problems. He is a NC State trained Landscape Architect and his work planning the project was instrumental in Joyner being awarded….nearly forty thousand dollars!

Over the next few months Joyner will transform the hydrology of the playground and other areas behind our school with thoughtfully designed stormwater conveyances and rain gardens, as well as eradicating invasive species and weeds (a Ray Holz specialty) at the school.

Seeing that Ray has no child at Joyner, cynics may guess he is simply sucking up to the boss. Cynics would be wrong. For one, how would they explain the assistance of his buddy, Wes? I don’t recall managing to drag a roomate out of bed in my twenties simply to help me curry favor at work.

Indeed, Wes, like Ray, is simply working for his passion — and the kids. Wes has a new company, Green Roots Environmental Design, specializing in all-native plant landscaping

The truth is that these two guys are just good eggs — eager to help do whatever they do well. Stories From The Field will follow the improvements out at Joyner Elementary; progress which is in large part thanks to these gentlemen.