Month: March 2017

What’s the Buzz on Bumble Bees?

Photo Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA

After a minor delay by President Trump’s Administration, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)- effective March 18, 2017. Species that are listed under the ESA are afforded protection bat-quote2for not only individuals but also their habitat, which, for those who are involved in any type of development, engineering, architecture or construction projects, can result in conflicts.

In addition to reviewing a project for potential affects to species protected under the ESA, coordination is also required to identify potential impacts to state-listed species protected under the regulations in each of the New England states. For example, in New Hampshire, Hoyle, Tanner has designed and provided construction oversight to avoid impacting the following species: the federally-threatened small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides), a terrestrial orchid which prefers acidic soil often found along streambanks and slopes; the federally-endangered dwarf wedgemussel (Alasmidonta heterodon) that lives in the beds of relatively slow, clean rivers and streams; and the state-endangered Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) and Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platyhinos), which use wetlands and rivers for breeding and feeding.

But really, a bumble bee? First off, this is not the first invertebrate species to be listed for protection- maybe they are less cuddly or sweet to look at than a bald eagle, but the American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) and Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) have a role in their own environments that are important enough to prevent their loss. Second, it is not the first bee to be listed, as 7 bee species were placed on the ESA in September 2016, however they are only found in Hawaii. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is currently protected not just because the number of individuals has declined by as much as 87% since the 1990s and it is important to protect environmental diversity along all taxonomic groups, but also because their decline affects the wide-scale pollination process and ultimately could have an impact on our economy and food-supplies. This species relies on tall grass prairies and grasslands along the upper Midwest and Northeast, including Maine and Massachusetts, areas which have been lost, degraded or fragmented as development has converted the land. This colonial insect requires access to a continuous supply of flowering plants from early spring through fall. The increase in monoculture farming that has resulted in a lack of plant diversity means that the bumble bees only find flowers during portions of their life cycle, or have to travel long, exhaustive distances to find food.

The USFWS recognizes that the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee only remains on lands where management or land use has allowed them to survive, and in these areas conservation goals will be targeted. Project proponents will need to consult with USFWS staff for project review, as they currently do for all projects, to ensure this bumble bee will not be affected by the proposed actions.

More information can be found on the USFWS website: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/index.html

Important Note: An identified project that has the potential to impact a listed species habitat is far from a road block! Proper and timely coordination with the appropriate state and federal regulatory officials can result in resolving conflicts for the project to proceed, in most cases. Often there may be a time-of-year (TOY) restriction placed on the work schedule to avoid nesting or breeding seasons, or certain design changes can be implemented, such as the use of non-plastic erosion control matting or netting to protect reptiles and amphibians. In certain cases, a survey can be conducted of the project area by an experienced biologist to determine if the species is present or using the area; this can be helpful where habitats have been identified based on older soil mapping or vegetation surveys data, or the species reports are historic and the species has not been seen in the area in recent years. If the species is not identified during a site-specific survey, not only is this helpful in allowing the project to move forward without restrictions, but it also provides the agencies with valuable data on the locations of protected plants and wildlife.

 

A Look Back: Heliport System Planning

helicopter parking landing on offshore platform, Helicopter transfer crews or passenger to work in offshore oil and gas industry, air transportation for support passenger, ground service.

In the early 80’s an effort was made to focus a portion of the FAA’s Airport Improvement (AIP) grant program on the needs of heliport infrastructure through heliport system plans, master plans and design and construction. The FAA had been collecting taxes from helicopter owners and operators for some time without, in the opinion of the rotorcraft manufacturers and operators, investing in the industry. This enhanced attention on heliports came to the immediate attention of Hoyle, Tanner as we were already committed to aviation design and planning and were closely monitoring industry trends. Our Director of Aviation Business Development at that time, knew well that the greatest concentration of commercial helicopter activity was in the south, namely in New Orleans which was a hub for helicopter service to the offshore oil industry. Added to this as an impetus was the fact that the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission also wanted access to the downtown area via helicopter service. The convergence of these interests and the availability of funding came together in the form of a commission for a Downtown Heliport Study, which Hoyle, Tanner was awarded, due in large part to contacts and relationships in the industry. Our study, which was very well received by both City officials and the public, led to another more comprehensive undertaking for Hoyle, Tanner; the Louisiana Statewide Heliport System Study; the first in the nation!

We took this success and our newly found reputation as heliport consultants to the western gulf and Houston, Texas. It was there that we completed another heliport study for the City of Houston and soon after embarked upon a project that would lead us another first for Hoyle, Tanner and a 25-year client relationship 1,600 miles away that continues to this day.

Next stop was Dallas, Texas for another heliport location plan; followed by Hurst, Texas and then on to Phoenix, Arizona for yet another. Our reputation as experts was by this time unquestioned and we moved still further west.

In terms of prestige, you’d be hard pressed to surpass that of our next two clients. First, the Southern California Association of Governments, which is the largest metropolitan planning organization in the county, representing 6 counties and 191 cities in the Los Angeles area, and second, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey where we were retained to conduct a verti-port study for Manhattan. This was the big-time for Hoyle, Tanner, and we had a full-time staff of eight aviation planners supporting our heliport and airport clients.

The Hawaiian Islands are also an area that sees intense helicopter activity, driven by tourism and inter-island commercial interests. So when the Hawaiian Department of Transportation sought to plan and develop a facility dedicated solely to helicopter operations on the island of Kauai, Hoyle, Tanner drafted conceptual plans; another first for us.

The activities described so far took place over a period of almost seven years. Natural events and changing economic times brought an end to this unique body of work. On September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki, the most powerful storm ever to hit the Hawaiian chain, devastated the island of Kauai, putting an end to the need and incentive for that facility.  The downturn in the national economy at that time suppressed helicopter activity, lowering the priority of heliport development versus fixed wing airport development.  Our string of successes in the heliport sector of aviation had played out, but we made our mark!

Right-of-Way Acquisition in 7 Steps

Simple steps of Right of Way permitting

Right-of-Way acquisitions in civil engineering encompass a lot of detail. According to Betsy Bosiak, land acquisition specialist at Hoyle, Tanner, it can take a little under five years to learn everything there is to know about Right-of-Way.

Betsy recently hosted a Lunch & Learn session at Hoyle, Tanner to answer questions about the acquisition process. For those who may not know what Right-of-Way is, it’s the act of acquiring land or easements to complete a project. It could be anything from a homeowner’s land that needs drainage services near a road to getting new land to build a medical office. As she stated in her presentation, each state has to follow certain federal guidelines, but the individual states do have specific criteria for Right-of-Way processes. In fact, if you take a stroll into Betsy’s office, her bookshelf is home to two thick Right-of-Way booklets: one for Maine and one for New Hampshire, available to anyone in the office who has questions.

Betsy’s presentation was about the acquisition process in New Hampshire (one she tried not to get into too much detail about because of its sheer power to overwhelm).

In 7 steps, here’s a breakdown of what we learned:

Before Final Design:

  1. Know the basics. First and foremost, Right-of-Way acquisition is considered a part of the final design process, depending on the size of the project. Yet it’s also important to realize that many items occur concurrent with plan development. The types of Right-of-Way are Prescriptive, Easement, and Fee. Prescriptive is determined by usage, but there is no layout. Easement acquisition is when the property owner gives easements to allow the use of land. Today, however, the most popular acquisition is fee-based; land is purchased for the project to be completed.Types of Right of Way Acquisition
  2. Determine what’s already there. It’s vital to determine the existing Right-of-Way by checking existing plans, historic documents, property surveys, deeds, and existing ground conditions.
  3. Make a plan & be specific. To actually acquire land for project use, there needs to be a project scope, preliminary design, final design, and recording all plans.
  4. Determine the type of acquisition: Fee Taking (buying the land), Temporary Easement (using it for the time of construction), or Permanent Easement (the land is yours forever, but the State or Municipality has easement rights).
  5. Explain the impacts. You actually need to explain to the landowner the intended impacts to the property. Public meetings, meetings with officials, and meetings with landowners are a critical part of the process. As Betsy suggests, keep records of what everyone says so that there’s no confusion later in the process.

During Final Design:

  1. Determine appraisals. Even after the landowner meetings, the land is still nAppraisal types for Right of Way acquisitionot ready to be built upon. In fact, the next step in the detailed acquisition process is Land Value Appraisals. Once that’s complete, a written offer is made to the landowner. If the landowner agrees to the compensation, the designers can move forward with the appropriate documents and acquire the land. The project can be completed! If not, well, it’s back to the negotiation table.
  2. Acquire the needed property rights. The property owner has agreed to the written compensation. It’s time to prepare the deed or easement document, and with a witness or notary, sign the document. Save all written records and notes and make copies of each. The land is officially available for project construction.

The Right-of-Way acquisition process is no simple matter (though it was explained in layman’s terms here). It can take anywhere from 1-2 years from preliminary to final design before land is acquired for the project. By then, project designs and abstracts can change multiple times. Betsy recommends documenting files for each landowner and making multiple copies of these documents for reference.

Have Right-of-Way questions? Talk to the specialist: Besty Bosiak, ebosiak@hoyletanner.com