Small and bald: What a difference a decade makes!

RS has been in business since 1998 but our first mitigation bank, Bear Creek, was not planted until October, 2001. Very soon afterward Mrs. Howard became pregnant with our first child, our lovely daughter Georgia Gilmer Howard. Georgia is now eleven and going to Daniels Middle School in the fall.

I share this background because on our way to the beach this Easter we made a family pilgrimage to the Bear Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank — which straddles Highway 70 between Raleigh and the coast. The kids have become increasingly interested in mitigation and we get a kick out of visiting Bear Creek and the adjacent Sleepy Creek.

I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Georgia beneath the closing canopy of bottomland hardwoods planted the year before her birth. Below you can see that photo — and another one taken not long after she was born — where I am hoisting the child above the glory of the newly-watered-and-planted former cornfield and swamp-to-be.

I have also included a photo of her beautiful mom Pam holding baby “G.” Note in the background to the left of small bald Georgia is a small bald cypress — which becomes a mighty knee’ed swamp monster in the modern photo.

These photos demonstrate to me in their own special way that we are in this for the long haul, care for our banks long after regulatory “close-outs,” and take deep pride in the miraculous process of environmental restoration. As our colleagues and regulators join in Denver this week for the NMBC I hope everyone is taking similar pride is the obvious fruits of our long labors.

Perhaps I’ll post another one of her little brother Henry Howard at Sleepy Creek, both planted — 2005.

Drone’s Eye View

Photo was taken from approximately 500 vertical feet above ground level looking North Northwest upstream along the Cache La Poudre River (Colorado) and down on the 3-Bell conservation easement.





The bottom center of the photo clearly shows a healthy oxbow ecosystem dominated by sandbar willow and cottonwood galleries. Upstream are remnant oxbows which have been heavily degraded by human agricultural practices. Drone under control of Raymond Holz; still picture clipped from video.


RS Holiday Luncheon

RS Holiday Card

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.

Workshop – Implementing the Galveston Stream Tool

On October 26th a workshop will be held in Houston, Texas to discuss the Interim Stream Condition Assessment Standard Operating Procedure which was recently put on the street by the Galveston Corps District.   This workshop is free and open to the public so if you would like to attend please visit the webpage and RSVP.  The workshop is key to anyone working on projects that may impact streams within Galveston District.

There will be three topics discussed during this workshop-

  • Jayson Hudson and Dwayne Johnson (USACE) will present on the Stream Condition Assessment SOP and how it should be implemented.
  • Lee Forbes (KBR) will discuss stream restoration techniques and present local project examples.
  • And RS’s very own Travis Hamrick will discuss our newest stream bank servicing the Houston Metro area- The Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank.


We expect this workshop to be well attended (100+ people responded on the first day) so please RSVP to insure that there is enough room for everyone. See you there!

Buddy Study: Dr. Riggsbee in Science again

Stories is bursting with pride at the continuing accomplishments of Adam Riggsbee.

Adam worked at RS for a couple of years after getting his PhD at Carolina where his subject of study was dam removal. During that time Adam and his academic collaborator Todd BenDor had the bright idea (along with your’s truly) of surveying mitigation providers in 2009 following publication of the new Federal Mitigation Rule.

What we discovered was that mitigation banking “post-rule” is still a spooky business proposition. As detailed in Adam’s journal article below, and further reported this week in Science, 75% of participants believe the mitigation Rule did not lessen the financial risk of commercial compensatory mitigation.

Moreover, more than half reported that fundamental aspects of the regulation were essentially being ignored, such as the clear-cut preference for banked mitigation over Do-It-Yourself or Fee Program mitigation.

While disappointed with the results, I was not surprised. We had just returned from this year’s 2011 National Mitigation and Conservation Banking Conference in Baltimore. As in 2009, much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair was evident among the participants over Rule compliance issues. If anything the angst was more intense than when the study was performed.

As a “Silver Back” in the mitigation business, however, I was less worried and more comfortably numb. Mitigation banking is simply not for the faint of heart or impatient. It is a long-term proposition likely to yield its reward only over great spans of time (under hypoxic conditions and at great pressure).

To use a trite but nonetheless apt phrase, commercial mitigation is not a revolution — but an evolution. Regulatory thickets can be pruned here and there and encouraged to grow healthy, but bush-hoggers need not apply as mitigation bankers

Which brings me back to Adam Riggsbee. After his stint at RS, Adam and his loyal side-kick (the westerly named) Matt Jessee moseyed on down to Austin, Texas and opened their own swamp and creek shop, Riverbank Ecosystems.

I was a bit concerned for the young fellers.

How could someone as steeped in the perils of commercial mitigation as Adam Riggsbee possibly put his young family and best friend on the firing line in the Lone Star state? It has worked for us thus far at RS — but we got lucky — and nearly had our clocks cleaned at several points. What if these guys were cut down by the real world challenges of swamp swamping for profit?

Not a chance. Adam has approached the challenge of professional mitigation provision just right. He is cultivating a winning mix of hard science and good business as a corporate strategy at Riverbank Ecosystems.

As far as I can tell, there is no one else in the business who is publishing at a high level on mitigation while simultaneously negotiating land options on valuable Central Texas ranches. Adam is the best of both worlds in mitigation: A publishing businessman.

As Dr. Riggsbee joked this morning, it is now “official.” It takes longer to produce revenue from mitigation than it does to publish on the subject in a top journal.

Welcome to the rodeo, kid.

“Science” Editor’s Choice “A survey of entrepreneurial risk in stream and compensatory mitigation markets”

A survey of entrepreneurial risk in stream and compensatory mitigation markets

Paul Howard Company launches dredge Noble Warrior in defense of our coastlines

The Paul Howard Construction Company, owned by the brother of the Swamp Merchant, recently launched a new boat designed to engage in the difficult and tricky work of coastal dredging — particularly coastal marsh restoration.

Swamp Brother’s craft, the Noble Warrior, was set a-sail in the bonny port of Beaufort, North Carolina, along with her loyal boat, Noble Tender.  They join a sister ship in-operation, dredge Noble Spirit.


It is exciting to see my brother engage in this new venture. The family tradition of water-related heavy construction is old. The Paul Howard Company, and it’s predecessor firms, Paul N. Howard Company, Howard International, and the Howard Management Group, date to the early 1920’s. The company’s North Carolina construction license is #80. There are very few contractors large or small on earth with the track-record of successful projects this organization enjoys.

Click the photo above to learn more of the history of Paul Howard Co.

RS is proud to share a little DNA with PHCC.  And seeing as how RS plans to move a few million yards of dirt ourselves — it is even possible our path cross the Howard company’s in the “Bayous to Be” of south Louisiana.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Noble Warrior Specs:

18″ x 16″ Cutter Suction Dredge and Idler Barge

State of the art dredge built to be truckable, versatile and maximize production. Less than 1 year old. Low hours

General Conditions:
Digging Depth 34′ @ 60 deg. Can be easily lengthened
Ladder Length 40′
Total Weight Est 220,000 lb
Hull Depth 5′
Mean Draft 40″
Center Section 53’x10’x5′
SidePonttons 6’x75’x5′
Overall Main Dredge 22’x90’x5′
Hull Thickness 1/4″ skin
Watertight Bulkheads Avg. every 10′


Idler Barge

Carridge Spud 40’x5’x12′
Spacer 40’x’4X12
Dredge Pump:
Suction 18″
Dischage 16″
Impellar Diameter 40″
Vosta Basket Style 58″ Replaceable teeth
Drive Planetarty gearbox with water lubricated cuttless bearings
Torque 300,000 ib-in 200 HP
Speed 0-25 RPM
Dredge Pump Cat C-32 1125 HP
Auxilliary Cat C-11 420 HP
Winches: Pullmaster M18
Swing Winch (2 Ea) 18,000 lb
Ladder Winch 18,000 lb
Spud Winches ( 2 Ea) 18,000 lb
Spuds ( 2 Ea)
40′ Round 1/2″ Wall
Hydraulic System
Valves Electr-proportional
Pumps Geartek gear pumps
Motors Geartek gear motors
Contamination Protection Pre strainers and10 Micron filters
System Releif All circuits set at 2500 psi
Operator Cab 8×10 Air Conditoned



Aluminum Speed Rail for entire dredge perimeter
Special ergonomic operator seat with integrated joystick controls
Heatshrunk electrial connections and elctrical grease on connections
Three job cranes for service of pump, spuds and misc.
Inside of all hull sectons painted
Penberthy pump primer
Heavy duty service water pump
Serive boat docking station
20′ shipping Container ( Shop and Spare Parts)
Berthhold Mass Flow density meter
Computer automated swing controls
Computer automated production and data logging
Also Available
Booster Pump ( Brand New) 16x18x46
(Zero Hours) Cat C-32 1125 HP

Dredge Tender Tug Boat (Brand New) 20 hours
Twin Screw JohnDeer 400 HP

Two service fuel barges

10,000 L.F. of 20″ SDR 17 pipe used on one job pumping silt



RS People: Dave Schiller's "Emeritus" Dinner

RS had a fine celebration the other night for one of our favorite people, Dave Schiller. Dave has worked at RS since 2003 (which blows my mind). He is still working at RS. Harder than ever, in fact. But Dave has a little more flexibility now — if he chooses — to spend more time with his new house, young wife, Cocker Spaniels — and shotguns.

Dave loves shotguns.  John Preyer came to know Dave through shotgun talk when Dave worked for NCDOT, after Dave worked for Progress Energy and the U.S. Army (Nam). John surprised Dave with a company gift at the party: A Merkel shotgun. I don’t know the model but Dave could tell you what Merkel it is just by glancing at it.

Dave then played the most clever practical joke I have ever seen later that night at dinner.  As a result of another company gag, Dave was actually paying for his own Emeritus Dinner. Not the shotgun mind you — but Dave was picking up the entire tab at 18 Seaboard. (What? You thought RS paid for this wonderful meal in the midst of this recession?)

So here is what Dave did.

To be continued…

RS Friday Site Search

When I started in the business 1996, we found good restoration and mitigation sites by digging through the black and white aerial photos at Farm Service Agency offices.   My how things have changed in such a short time.

Robert Bugg, Bryan Robbins and Travis Hamrick Surf for Swamps.