Cane Creek Restoration Helps Balance Out Development

Tue July 01, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson



More than 17,000 linear ft. (5,200 m) of a once wild and meandering North Carolina stream system that has degraded due to agricultural activity is currently undergoing an extensive restoration.

The $2 million Cane Creek restoration project in northwest Person County has seen crews working there since early May. If all goes according to plan, the construction phase of the project should be complete by the end of 2008, said Tim Morris, construction manager for the Raleigh office of KCI Technologies Inc. His firm and its subcontractor, Quartermaster Environmental, currently have a combined crew of 12 to 15 people at the site, located off Cunningham Road and Highway 119, on the north and west shores of Hyco Lake.

The North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP), a state agency created in 2003 to balance development and environmental protection, chose KCI to restore the creek.

According to the EEP’s Web site, the genesis of the program came about in the 1990s when the state Department of Transportation (NCDOT) “began to experience increased project delays in its transportation-infrastructure program because of unavoidable environmental impacts in its development projects.” The NCDOT attempted to satisfy most of its mitigation needs internally and by contracting the work to private firms.

In 1997, the state founded the Wetlands Restoration Program, a wetlands-oriented mitigation program for development. Eventually, with other state agencies also concerned with the problems of development vs. environmental protection, the EEP was created. The award-winning program has since become a national model for wetland and stream mitigation.

Wetland and stream impacts that occur during development projects throughout the state of North Carolina have the option to pay into a fund established to mitigate the environmental damage done by individual projects. Restoration projects generally are carried out in the same watershed where the impact occurred.

“For every acre of wetlands or every linear foot of stream that is impacted during a given time period, whoever is impacting the wetlands or streams would be required to mitigate for those impacts by doing a stream or wetland restoration project somewhere else,” Morris explained. “[The Cane Creek] project is probably mitigation for several different DOT projects, as well as potentially a bunch of private, residential and commercial development projects, too.”

KCI is one of a handful of Tarheel design and consulting firms that applied to the EEP to do stream restoration. On the Cane Creek project, KCI was allowed to find the site, do reconnaissance work on it to determine if it is a good candidate for restoration and then submit a proposal for the work to the EEP. KCI then competed with other firms for the project.

After EEP evaluates the site for its technical merit, generally the firm with the lowest bid wins the project, Morris said.

The Cane Creek job is known as a “full-delivery project” in that the state allowed KCI to find the damaged stream, design and implement its restoration, then complete five years of monitoring to determine if the site is meeting the intent of the design. In this case, Morris said that the Cane Creek project is so large that KCI brought in Quartermaster Environmental (QME) to help.

Brooks Cole, a QME environmental engineer, is overseeing the project for his company. Based in Shelby, QME was started in 2002 primarily as a service company to utility providers like Duke Energy. He said that the company still does that, but also works on a large number of specialized control and stabilization projects, such as the one at Cane Creek.

The stream, part of the Upper Cape Fear watershed, runs through land that is largely used for agriculture.

That fact, it seems, is largely to blame for Cane Creek’s degradation.

“This particular channel is in a pasture and it has widespread livestock damage to it,” Cole admitted. “Over the years, that particular piece of property has been through phases of clearing and grading for establishing the pasture and that has had a pretty detrimental impact on that stream, as has the cattle traffic going through there. Cattle end up loafing in the stream itself. As a result, the channel has highly degraded in size and is basically unstable.”

Cole explained that QME first cleared the channel and the easement of any trees that are in the way or any plants considered to be invasive species. The company next established a base-channel width, based on KCI’s design, and will first flatten the slopes and create a floodplain bench before fashioning more gradual slopes from there.

“That does a couple of things. One, the base channel may actually be a little narrower, so that it keeps the sediment load flushed out and keeps the base stream flow in a more natural and stable condition,” he said. “Then, when you have a wider floodplain, if you do have a heavy storm event, the water can spread out and not be as erosive and detrimental. Finally, there will be cattle exclusion fencing such that the animals won’t be allowed back into the easement.”

Pretty soon, the crew from QME will work one side of the stream while a KCI crew will work the other, Morris said.

Cole said that his firm has eight to 10 workers at the site, including people to go to a nearby quarry to choose the best boulders for the stream project

QME owns several of the construction pieces used on the project, including several mid-sized John Deere trackhoes. As a matter of fact, Morris characterizes the trackhoe as “the big workhorse in the stream restoration business.”

Cole cites a Deere 160D LC, a 230D LC and a 270D LC as three machines that are providing outstanding service on the job. He also is using a Deere 350D off-road articulated dump truck and a Deere 850J crawler dozer. All of this equipment was purchased through Ronnie Rathbone of James River Equipment in Charlotte.

“Ronnie has been a big help in getting the things we need and in the time frame that we need them,” Cole said.

In addition, Cole went through James River to rent a Deere 200D LC excavator and a Deere 250 off-road articulated dump truck for the project.

Morris said that the work being done on Cane Creek should transform it, making it close to what it was before the land was used for farming.

“Streams are living entities and what is happening in a lot of these agricultural fields is the farmer has manipulated them over the years to maximize drainage,” he said. “As a result, you will often see that what were once meandering streams are now straight-line ditches. We try to restore some of that pattern and profile to create meandering streams, if that is what the design calls for.”

In his business, Morris defines “restoration” as a change in the pattern, form and profile of the stream. He characterizes a stream “enhancement” as simply a repair, as in fixing an eroding bank, for instance.

“An enhancement won’t change the planned form of the stream, so that has less of an impact. With a restoration, in a lot of cases you are taking the existing stream and creating a whole new one next to it and then diverting the water into it. At Cane Creek, we are actually doing both.” CEG