Building with Beetles and Birds

Building with Beetles and Birds

Environmental Monitors Help Clients Keep Construction Projects in Compliance and Moving Forward

At its largest, Nicrophorus americanus — the American burying beetle — is just one and a half inches long. It is recognizable, with distinctive shiny black and bright orange markings. But it is not often seen, appearing on the U.S. endangered species list since 1989.

Sean Daly, a Burns & McDonnell on-site environmental manager working on a 345-kV transmission line project in Oklahoma, is familiar with the beetle. It's just one of the many things Daly's project team addresses along the project's approximately 120-mile route.

Since setting up at the construction site in January 2011, Daly has been responsible for monitoring or overseeing endangered species surveys, wildlife buffers, wetland boundaries, historical and cultural resources, and reviewing the project's stormwater pollution prevention plan's (SWPPP) best management practices. The services are provided through the Burns & McDonnell Environmental Monitoring for Construction Compliance (EMC2) department.

Always Prepared

The team began preparing for the project months before construction started, spending much of 2010 preparing permits and understanding their conditions, conducting training on sensitive species, coordinating permit requirements, and preparing for inspection and reporting guidelines under federal and state regulations. The team coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies.

"It's our job to do the groundwork and remove roadblocks ahead of construction to try to avoid any delays," Daly says. "We give our clients an extra set of eyes. We are here to provide an extra level of oversight and follow through on our commitments to give our clients peace of mind."

Keeping Current

In California, project manager Steve Riggs has had up to 150 environmental monitors reviewing a large transmission line and substation project.
Monitors have come across 26 environmentally sensitive areas, including the barefoot gecko, desert big horn sheep and golden eagles. At the height of the nesting season, as many as 3,000 native bird species may have nests along the project route.

Riggs' team is using more than 100 computer tablets to maintain data gathered along the route. The tablets' portability helps the team communicate more efficiently with each other and the client, providing current, accurate field data.

"The old technology can be tedious and expensive," Riggs says. "With the tablets, you can view all environmental impacts instantly. With all the data coming in, they've been very helpful with keeping everyone up to date."

Steve Haler, manager of the EMC2 group, says the technology enables the project team to integrate seamlessly into a client's existing project systems. "We can provide real-time data, instantaneous results and immediate access to clients by tying directly into the programs they are already using."

Adding Value

Using the tablets is one of many ways Riggs' team provides added value to the client.

As with many projects that require construction oversight, local environmental inspectors familiar with local species and site details provide day-to-day monitoring.

"They are very experienced and have seen it all before, showing the client we are ready to help solve problems and get things built," he says. "Our construction monitors are often the first to show up and the last to leave a project site, providing oversight from the initial concept through final restoration."

It's vital that a project is monitored from start to finish to maintain compliance and protect sensitive resources from construction impacts. But the bottom line matters.

"We want to protect natural resources," he says, "but we are also here to protect the integrity of our clients while maintaining
focus on the project budget and schedule."

For more information, contact Steve Haler, 816-822-3578.

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