As Northeast Utilities embarks on its New England East-West Solution (NEEWS) projects, it's taking measures to avoid or minimize adverse effects to wetlands.
Northeast Utilities selected Burns & McDonnell as the program manager for the New England East-West Solution (NEEWS), which consists of four related transmission projects. Together, the projects are needed to solve existing problems with the transmission system to meet national and regional reliability standards and provide adequate electric power.
The Greater Springfield Reliability Project (GSRP) is the first of the NEEWS projects to be constructed. The project spans 39 miles from Bloomfield, Conn., to Ludlow, Mass., and consists of both new and rebuilt 345-kV and 115-kV transmission lines, as well as substation and switching station upgrades. Construction of the GSRP began in 2010 and is expected to be complete in 2013.
The GSRP team took significant measures to avoid or minimize any adverse effects to wetlands through the siting and design phases of the project. In the areas where impacts were unavoidable, Burns & McDonnell crews performed detailed studies in the field with knowledgeable construction personnel who coordinated closely with design engineers to determine where impacts to wetlands could be further minimized. When all practicable measures were taken, the teams developed comprehensive mitigation measures to reverse temporary project impacts to wetlands or to mitigate for unavoidable permanent impacts.
This project challenged the project team to create four new wetland areas to replace habitats that will be disturbed during construction of the GSRP. Engineers and scientists conducted thorough desktop and field reconnaissance of potential sites to compensate for impacts to the state- and federal-regulated wetland resource areas.
One of the mitigation sites selected involves the restoration and enhancement of 13 acres of wetlands and the creation of almost two acres of wetlands at the Hilltop Farm. The property, nestled in the northeast corner of Suffield, Conn., is a historic landmark formerly owned by the inventor of Indian Motorcycles. The property is now owned by the Town of Suffield and managed by The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop — a volunteer organization that has worked for more than a decade to preserve the century-old farm and its stately 20,000-square-foot dairy barn. The land, designated as open space used by the community, is a precious commodity. It's also home to nesting bald eagles and breathtaking views of a pastoral landscape and the Connecticut River.
Before beginning construction on the GSRP, the project team worked closely with volunteers from The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop and with Suffield town officials to proactively identify areas of the property to enhance wetland habitats and to develop new wetlands. Federal, state and local agencies were involved in the permitting process, which required coordinated communication with all parties.
Engineers and project environmental professionals worked under strict wetland mitigation requirements and state regulations to protect a pair of nesting bald eagles. The regulations stipulated that no activity occur within 600 feet of the nests from Feb. 1 to Aug. 1, which is their nesting period. Having time restrictions imposed requires close coordination with all functional areas to properly schedule and sequence project activities.
The Burns & McDonnell team worked closely with stakeholders to maximize the benefits of the wetland enhancements and newly created wetland areas. Project environmental managers established strong relationships with regulators and other parties while reviewing the wetland mitigation project.
Burns & McDonnell managed GSRP contractors to remove approximately 13 acres of invasive species along the northern section of the property, including multi-flora rose, reed canary grass and flowering purple loosestrife. These species, while ornamental, tend to smother natural wetlands. To enhance the value of the habitat, crews improved a pre-existing stream channel by removing invasive plants and adding new, native, beneficial species such as highbush blueberry, alder meadowsweet and hazelnut. These plants were selected to attract a wide variety of bird species to the area.
When the project team approached The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop about the potential to conduct part of its wetland mitigation work on the site, the Friends organization had been working on building recreation and educational opportunities, such as installing boardwalks and walking paths on the farm. The group had a small grant for wildlife habitat improvement from the National Resource Conservation Service to help complete some of the work. The organization was able to accomplish more of its desired recreational and educational upgrades with the help of the wetlands mitigation.
"Being volunteers, they don't often have the funding or resources they need to accomplish all the things they'd like to do," says Chris Fritz, an associate environmental scientist at Burns & McDonnell. "We were able to help them check some key initiatives off their list."
Since October 2011, about 1.8 acres of new forested/shrub swamp and emergent wetlands have been constructed at the Hilltop Farm. The work will continue through 2013. Still to come will be approximately 12.7 acres of enhancements to existing wetland areas and 5.1 acres of enhancements to existing upland/riparian buffers along an existing pond and wetland meadow.
The Burns & McDonnell Environmental Services & Permitting Group received accolades from the farm's volunteer group. "With the help of the Greater Springfield Reliability Project Team, we have been able to further preserve and beautify our grounds for the enjoyment of the community," Thomas Wardell, a member of the group's board of directors, wrote in a letter to the Burns & McDonnell team. "We offer our sincere thanks and appreciation not only to you and your team, but also to those at Northeast Utilities."
Burns & McDonnell prides itself on leaving an area in better condition than when it was found.
"We have worked really hard keeping (The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop) in the loop," says Robert Young, regional manager of the Environmental Services & Permitting Group at Burns & McDonnell. "I think that the sense of teamwork between all the agencies has helped the project unfold so smoothly."
For more information, contact Robert Young, 203-949-2327.