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Erosion Control Job Helps Save Pennsylvania Creek

Wed August 16, 2000 - Northeast Edition
Tom Nicholson

Excavating contractors and conservation officers are working together to solve the problem of soil-eroding and flooding creeks in a unique project that is under way in northeastern Pennsylvania and may serve as a model for similar projects around the country.

Using the concept of fluvial geomorphology, in which erosion-causing sediment build up on the creek bed is eliminated by redirecting the water flow back into its original course at the center of the bed, the project is transforming the 20-mi. (32 km) long Bentley Creek, Ridgebury Township, PA, into a natural flowing creek instead of the threat it has been to creekside landowners for decades.

For conservation officers, fluvial geomorphology is heralded as a possible panacea for flood and erosion-prone creeks in the mountainous terrain of the East, and preliminary observations of the project’s results look promising, according to excavating contractor John Gleim.

Mike Lovegreen of the Bradford County, Pennsylvania Conservation District, has played an integral part in getting the project off the ground by soliciting the help of hydrologists in the West who developed the method of “fixing” creeks. He said the project involves the construction of “rock veins” — V-shaped barricades for controlling the direction of water flow — which entails the placement of two-ton rocks at strategic points along the stream where sediment is apt to build up.

For the contractor tasked to bring the new idea to fruition, John Gleim Excavators of Carlisle, PA, the project is an opportunity to learn the new excavating techniques that Gleim expects may be the wave of the future in the erosion control field.

“What we are doing here is working with nature,” said Dale Bentz, director of Gleim Environmental Group, a division of the company created two years ago to focus on the environmental aspect of excavating jobs on wetlands and streams. “By using fluvial geomorphology principles we are mimicking what nature does and allowing the water to get back to its original flow channel.

Erosion is caused when sediment builds up at slow spots in the flow and the rock veins prevent that from occurring. This is a new approach, in the past levees and dikes were built and we didn’t focus on sediment buildup.

Contractors are going to need to understand how to apply this technique in the future. It is a lot more than just placing rocks in the creek, having the right elevation and degree of angle on each rock you place is very important,” he said.

Gleim created the Gleim Environmental Group out of his own concern for the environment, as well as the trend he foresees for excavating contractors to become involved in environmentally focused projects.

“This project is an investment in our future,” said Gleim. “We aren’t making a profit on this project, but we are learning how to apply geomorphology excavating techniques that I think will be in demand more and more in the future. For us this project is all about learning — we are studying at the University of Bentley Creek.”

Using a Case 9040 excavator, a Case 1150G bulldozer and a Case 821 wheel loader, Gleim said the work is progressing smoothly and is nearing completion.

While the project is a model for what Lovegreen, Gleim and Bentz said may be the future of soil erosion control projects, Gleim said it also represents what may be a new era in which contractors and conservation officers will need to work together to ensure the well being of the environment.

Lovegreen was the impetus behind the project and brought it to reality through work to procure state grants to fund studies on the creek and the damage flooding and erosion there has caused over the years. He discovered the fluvial geomorphology method from hydrologists who used the method out west to much success. Lovegreen put the project in motion, but it is Gleim, Bentz and their crew that are following through.

While the new, experimental idea has weathered its fair share of critics, mostly from landowners who say the creek cannot be tamed, completed portions of the creek have proven to have withstood both critics and a very rainy spring which has filled the banks numerous times.

Creekside resident Leland Jelliff, whose farm is located along the completed section of the creek and has been the target of flooding and soil erosion for years, said the project has eliminated the erosion of his land along the creek and he is optimistic about the application of fluvial geomorphology.

“In the past our attempt to solve the problem was to bulldoze the creek bed out, all the way to the river,” said Jelliff. “It never worked because sediment would just build up again over time. This project seems like it will work.”

“As land developers, we are often seen as the bad guys,” said Gleim. “But we have had to become more environment-conscious and that is why we are here on this project, we aren’t here for profit, it is a chance to give back to the environment, it is a challenge and we like that.—

Both Bentz and Gleim said their respect for the environment stems from their farming background, which instilled an understanding that progress and development must work with — not against — nature.

“The whole idea of this project is to work with nature, to work with the stream,” said Bentz. “We aren’t fighting nature anymore, we are making it an ally.

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