May 5, 2016
As the saying commonly goes, pipeline contractors do a wonderful job of constructing oil and gas pipelines. Where they don’t specialize is restoring the right of way (ROW) back to its beautiful original condition. The most critical stage of a construction project is the tail end, when it is important to bring in arborists and experts well versed in policies and regulations protecting the environment and the ROW from future damage. Rights-of-way span beyond oil and gas pipeline needs, and are also managed by electric and telephone utilities, highway departments, and railroads.
According to Richard A. Johnstone’s abstract in Science Direct, “right-of-way corridors provide a means to convey energy to run the nation’s economy and are vital links for national security”. For some of us, they also provide a great path for walking, hiking and mountain biking near our homes.
A Punch List is a checklist of items on a construction project which are unfinished or incomplete. All items must be corrected by the contractor in a timely fashion so that the finished job conforms to the contract.
Thou who carefully addresses restoration with a keen eye invests in the long-term vitality of the right-of-way. Contractors with a background in restoration, according to FERC regulations, tend to be best qualified for long-range mileage and challenging terrain.
Streams, natural springs, and other waterways are critically important to care for and monitor. Water enables living creatures to thrive. Fish, frogs, tadpoles, endangered turtles and crawfish all swim and procreate, bringing new life through our streams. These waterways are the source of water for non-amphibious animals like our deer.
Construction crews frequently build bridges and place wooden mats over streams to prevent the occasional mud and dirt from construction getting into the water and affecting our wildlife. When streams do get damaged, it is essential to bring in experts for a restoration solution which meet environmental standards and protect wildlife.
Erosion Control Devices (ECD) are installed as part of the construction process and include filter sock, rock filter, super silt fence, straw bale barriers, and are placed on ROW terrain spanning from the steepest of mountains to marshy wetlands to the driest of deserts.
The Nature Conservancy published a report stating that “soil disturbance during construction can also increase the risk of erosion and sedimentation if controls are not carefully designed and implemented”.
Both the installation and design of these controls as well as the removal must be implemented with an agronomists’ thoughtful consideration and eye for potential future problems. Similar to stream bank stabilization, in many cases, small areas need to be stabilized to ensure that sedimentation issues are diverted long-term.
The final phase of restoration involves revegetation and seeding. A range of techniques from the very basic hand-seeding to hydroseeding to heliseeding (aka…hydroseeding via helicopter). However, the most critical element is choosing the right seed mix, for which in many cases an agronomist should be consulted. Species, varieties, or cultivars, must match the revegetation goals and environmental conditions of the site, according to MSU’s Revegetation Guidelines. Factors include soil attributes, annual precipitation, temperature, and elevation which vary across different parts of the ROW. Selecting a native seed mix is ideal for promoting ecologic stability and plant community integrity while reducing the risk of an invasive species.
You can read more about seed mix consideration in our blog. The Nature Conservancy notes that a portion of the right‐of‐way will return to forested trees and shrubs. “At least 50 feet of the right‐of‐way, centered on the pipeline, is generally kept open, though vegetated with grass to minimize erosion and to facilitate monitoring, maintenance and repairs of the pipeline.”
The earth changes every day, so expecting a ROW to stay the same after Mother Nature has run her course is simply wishful thinking. Post construction and revegetation, it is important to return to the area to assess the terrain after rainy weather and severe storms.
Beautifully restoring a ROW requires the dedication and effort of numerous stakeholders. To cover each element would require a library full of information. The punch list, careful restoration of stream banks, ECD removals, seeding and revegetation and then monitoring once final are all important pieces of the project and ultimate commitment to our shared land. Who could have guessed the sheer volume of skills, experience, and labor that had to be dedicated to your nice neighborhood hiking trail!