Loaded Lovers: Virginia Department of Transportation overspends on wetland mitigation bank

Whew, I’m relieved Restoration Systems isn’t following the Virginia Department of Transportation’s business plan for mitigation — we’d be out of business.

Travis Hamrick came across this TV news story revealing that VDOT had spent — get this — $5.1 million building a mitigation bank. Now that might be excusable if the agency had wetted up thousands of acres, or restored a river like RS did at Carbonton, but the story says the project yielded a mere mile of stream restoration and 36 acres of wetlands.

Let’s do some speculative math. If you split the spending equally between the two resource types, $2.5 mil to stream, and $2.5 mil to wetlands, it would work out to $473 per foot for restored creek and $70,000 per acre of restored wetland.

Those Virginia Lovers must be loaded!

Seriously, this is what happens when centralized government agencies perform environmental mitgation “in-house,” and contract out other parts only in a piecemeal fashion.

For instance, here is VDOT employee Randy M. Baker (obviously a good fellow) planting Willow stakes himself at the Eagle Rock Mitigation Bank. In our humble opinion, Virginia would have been better off if Randy had stayed in Richmond and administered a Full-Delivery Contract to have turn-key mitigation providers compete to provide the mitigation, and plant the trees, at a flat price for the lowest cost.

The Full-Delivery process has been an unqualified success in North Carolina. A foot of stream, in even the most difficult regions of the state, is regularly constructed for just over $300. I have never seen a bid accepted anywhere near the $573 we assume here for the VDOT work.  Wetlands vary, but only once in hundreds of offers have I ever seen a fresh water price meet or exceed the $80K paid here.

It is not that VDOT employees like Mr. Baker and others are incompetent or recklessly wasteful. It is just that VDOT has not discovered what the North Carolina, and recently South Carolina, DOT’s have realized: Mitigation is a complex multi-part exercise that lends itself to competitive Turn-Key “Full-Delivery” contracting — outside the mitigation banking framework — by regulated entrepreneurs.

For instance, land acquisition is inevitably more expensive and cumbersome when performed by the government agency in need of mitigation, rather than a private business approaching a landowner person-to-person.

Same goes for the dirt moving. The construction cost here was $3,339,140. RS has constructed over 35 mitigation sites of many different acreages and flavors but have never spent such a sum on the restoration construction.

An established mitigation provider who has won a qualitative low-bid, bonded, Full-Delivery performance contract from the state is going to more closely manage his construction partner (usually a long-term relationship) for cost overuns, than the government agency.

As for the design, that clocked in at…sit down…$845,209. Anyone reading this in the mitigation business knows what that means: They got fleeced.

Enough criticism. I have a suggestion. The Virginia Department of Transportation needs to call the doctor: Dr. David Robinson. Robinson is widely recognized as the father of “Full-Delivery” mitigation. Here is his website: http://www.full-delivery.com/

Robinson could give valuable advice (literally) to VDOT. Full-Delivery seems to be working in South Carolina, where more than a dozen competitive bids were recently received for large mitigation needs around Florence. It has long worked in North Carolina (as we know). It seems now is the time for VDOT…to give a shot….to Full-Delivery mitigation providers.

Comments (2)


So who was the Consultant for VDOT. How could you EVER
spend 850K for design, then ask VDOT with a straight face for 150k + to
remediate the consultants oversight and actions. INCREDIBLE.

Incredible, to those stream and wetland guys, look at the
site not rocket science, You want to see an impressive stream restoration
project call George Howard at RS he has some real winners that are REAL and on

How about if I mail VDOT Commissioner Whirley a complimentary copy of the Full Delivery Manual I just authored? Do you think it might help?

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