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Wright Contracting Tackles Wetland Mitigation Project

Known as the UT to Town Creek Stream and Wetland mitigation project, it impacts a stream and wetlands in the Catawba River Basin.

Wed November 11, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

Wright Contracting LLC is currently in the middle of a stream and wetland mitigation project in North Carolina.
Wright Contracting LLC is currently in the middle of a stream and wetland mitigation project in North Carolina.
Wright Contracting LLC is currently in the middle of a stream and wetland mitigation project in North Carolina. Tony Iannacone, Linder. “We just transitioned into some Komatsus from Linder, and one of the biggest reasons that we moved away from other machines to Komatsu was that their service and dependability goes far,” Joe Wright, owner, Wright Contracting LLC.

Wright Contracting LLC is currently in the middle of a stream and wetland mitigation project in North Carolina. Known as the UT to Town Creek Stream and Wetland mitigation project, it impacts a stream and wetlands in the Catawba River Basin. The job was bid through Michael Baker Engineering.

“This particular project is a stream and wetland mitigation project, which is state funded,” said Joe Wright, owner. “We are contracted by Michael Baker Engineering, who holds a contract with the Division of Mitigation Services, and the short and sweet on that is that roadways, bridges and developers impact natural resources like streams and wetlands, and they have to offset those impacts. Typically, they can do onsite mitigation, but a lot of times they’ll pay into a fee program which gets put into the general fund for these projects. DMS (Division Mitigation Services) puts out RFPs for these projects, then providers like Baker and others will physically propose projects similar to this where they acquire property, work with landowners and bid the construction of the project. It’s a competitive process, for both the bankers and contractors. We have an opportunity as a contractor to bid on the construction and if they award us, then we get the project and move forward.”

Wright explained that DMS will send out an RFP for mitigation credits — either stream or wetland credits — to offset the impact that they’re foreseeing in the basin. This is done by watershed.

“When we look to find a project, we have to make sure that it’s in the watershed area and the area that the DMS requests or there is a credit need, so then we actually fund and take all the liability of the project up front,” said Chris Tomsic, engineer with Michael Baker Engineering. “Then as project milestones are reached, we get paid from DMS, and then they hold the actual credits that are issued from the regulatory agencies for those mitigations to either sell or use for the department of transportation, developers, and so on.”

Michael Baker Engineering has offices all over the nation, and specializes in ecosystem restoration. The company as a whole is a transportation firm, doing everything from roads to bridges. The North Carolina office is focused on ecosystem restoration, which includes stream and wetland mitigation, best management practices and environmental services.

“Basically, Michael Baker acquires the land — they know that there’s a need for credit, so they acquire the land, or at least propose land to be used for stream restoration,” Wright said. “They are looking for certain qualities in the stream that need to be repaired, like for instance cattle impact would be a good one. So, when a developer or the state makes improvements for us as a society and impacts a stream or wetland in its natural existence, you can’t get that back, so the whole idea behind all this is to basically fix it somewhere else in the same basin in the same area. So if you mess up a creek 10 miles away, we want to fix one in the same area as close to the impact as possible, for example. So Michael Baker Engineering is basically a company that handles the bulk of that. They propose a project and then hire me as a contractor to come in here and actually do the work, and that’s what we specialize in. Michael Baker is basically acquiring and designing the land, and giving us a construction project to produce.”

The project is approximately 6,388 linear ft. (1947 m), with a main stream and three tributaries that feed in. The value is about $1.5 million, which includes engineering, construction, design and post-construction monitoring, since the project must be monitored to make sure that it’s successful and meets the criteria of a mitigation project for five to seven years from construction.

The landowner gets paid for the easement, so he technically still owns it, but he gives up some of the development rights to it. The landowner also gets benefits, such as alternative water sources and fencing for cattle to keep them out of the creek.

“The big thing to keep in mind is the landowner really benefits — not just the environment, but the landowner,” Wright said. “Because they get brand new fence, brand new watering, they get paid for the easement, they get to basically still own the land…so to us it’s a win-win really for everybody involved.”

According to Wright, his company recently made a move with its machines.

“We just transitioned into some Komatsus from Linder, and one of the biggest reasons that we moved away from other machines to Komatsu was that their service and dependability goes far,” Wright said. “Just overall, customer service has been really great — these are all pretty much brand new Komatsus, so they caught us at a good time. We’re transitioning into a new era in the company.”

Wright noted that the company has been heavily using Topcon GPS on its equipment for almost four years now.

“Stream restoration is not for the faint of heart; it takes patience and very skilled employees to do this type of work,” Wright said. “The conditions are muddy, most of the time, and great care is taken to leave as much naturally as we can. It’s hard to grade when you’re sinking in mud. GPS in general makes us more efficient and more accurate as we build things. We’ve actually utilized an intelligent dozer before, and we’re demoing this intelligent I machine. The difference is that the machine knows what to do, which is very different from having the operator always know what to do. You go from an indicate system to a system that — I hate to say does it for you, but that follows the grade — the CAD that the engineer has drawn. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it and a lot of the issues with conventional staking. The I machine basically takes a lot of the actual effort out of actual operation of the machine. The I machine is a Topcon based system, and it integrates well with our current Topcon systems.”

Wright said that aftermarket Topcon systems can be bought and added to machines, but with the integrated system, the I machine actually controls the machine.

“It’s very different,” he said. “You know that you’re always going to be following that perfect contour — you’re not going to over-excavate and cost yourself more money. You move the dirt one time, and you’re going to be dead on accuracy-wise. You basically eliminate one person with the GPS, and then integrating it into the machine means that operator has full control in his cab, and the machine has full control to keep that operator from making errors.”

The project needs to be done by the end of the year, giving them roughly six months to get it completed. The contract involves two sites and two projects, which means there are three months for each, and the company is able to tighten that up.

“Because of the GPS and the Komatsu machines, if the weather and everything is going well, we can cut our time in half,” Wright said.

Wright said that he and his company have been happy with the decision to go with Komatsu.

“The machines are designed to move the earth, and that’s what we’re doing with them,” he said. “I’m very pleased with Komatsu in general — the service plan that comes with them, the warranty, the machine has great visibility, the power…Obviously, we’re doing environmental work, so fuel burn is a concern, and the machines are designed in a way that it makes fuel burn the most efficient. You get a lot of flexibility out of what the machine’s capabilities are, not to mention the GPS, so you’re across the board just reducing cost.”

One of the biggest factors for Wright so far has been the responsiveness for serviceability of the machines.

“Our service plan is built into our cost, and just being able to go in and get what you need and get it out here quickly is a huge deal for us, and is something that we’ve struggled with in the past,” he said. “If you need a filter or a bucket tooth or something repaired, the turnaround has been really great with Linder and Komatsu. We had a machine that had a little leak. We called them up and it was fixed in a day, keeping downtime at a minimum, which is a big deal for us.”

Wright explained that from a construction standpoint, they are working to reconnect the stream.

“What’s bad about this stream in general is that the water stays channelized,” he said. “Imagine a ditch, so you’ve got really fast deep water, and it’s eroding soil and it’s running downstream, and it’s going to impact and you’ll get flooding — there is no way to dissipate energy. A stream is working its way down to sea level, so one thing we want to do is reconnect the stream with the flood plain, and as the waters rise, the water level can get out on the flood plain. As it dissipates energy, it also drops nutrients out and treats contaminants in the water.

“Basically, we’re creating a huge stream with regards to the flood plain; the stream doesn’t really get much bigger, only shallower. If you dug a ditch, it just has a tendency to wash away and erode, so Baker designs structures and the stream channel size based on existing streams that are in this same area, so we install things like logs and boulders to recreate a naturally functioning stream. Sediment and erosion from construction projects tends to kill a lot of species that are almost microscopic, and that’s something we can’t get back when they’re all gone. It seems crazy, but erosion can impact us in a lot of ways.”

The structures help maintain the flow, and include natural materials that are biodegradable.

“After 5 to 10 years, everything that we put here should be long gone and the stream should be in its natural state,” Wright said. “So we’re reconnecting the channel with the flood plain so we slow the velocity down and clean the water up — we’re also creating habitat with our structures for fish and other types of small critters in the creek. We’re creating a buffer —we’re going to come back and plant trees — so this will be a nice reforested area where it was just a cow pasture with cows in the creek. We all know what cows do, so we’ve eliminated them doing it in the stream, and we’re going to put this back into a natural existence, and you know 100 years from now, this will be almost a state park setting to a certain extent — big natural trees and a really nice stream channel that functions the way the good Lord intended it — yeah, we’re human, and we’re doing this mechanically, but at some point nature takes over, and we’re basically putting that on the fast track. That’s basically what we’re doing out here mechanically with our Komatsus and the work that we’re doing. So we’re preventing erosion, cleaning up the water, creating habitat, and creating an environment for the future for hunting and fishing and the stuff that we can’t get back or it takes a long time to get back —we’re looking to fast forward that.

“The Komatsu I machine and just GPS in general is really helping us fast forward that production so we can do more with less, which is great for business and ultimately great for our natural environments and water quality.”

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