Month: September 2021

How do Airport Development, Wetlands and Land Conservation Connect?

Image of Moose River Area aerial view

Part 1: Airport Development – Location, Location, Location

The Town of Jackman, Maine, owner and operator of the Newton Field Airport, is working with Hoyle Tanner to expand the main airport runway for emergency medical aircraft. This is an important and necessary change that will allow emergency flights to supplement the regional health care offerings in this rural part of Maine.

Hoyle Tanner created multiple alternative designs for the runway expansion at the Newton Field Airport in order to avoid and minimize wetland impacts. Ultimately, as with any airport project where the runway is expanded, the location of the existing runway dictates where the site alteration has to occur, and wetlands are proposed to be impacted as part of the project.

Newton Field, like many airports built in New England before the 1970s, is surrounded by wetlands; in the 70s, wetlands were viewed more as low-cost land to be filled rather than valuable resources to be protected. Because of the location of the existing runway, and the limited areas in which runway expansion could occur, the runway expansion will require permitting for impacts to wetlands.

Part 2: Wetland Impacts – Now What?

Wetland impacts are permitted by Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As a condition of the permits that were issued for the project, the Town is required to provide compensatory mitigation for wetland impacts – this is often referred to as wetland mitigation.

Wetland mitigation can come in a variety of ways in the State of Maine: 1) the applicant can create wetlands in another location, either on-site or off-site; 2) the applicant can repair, restore or enhance an existing wetland that needs assistance in restringing it to complete functionality, i.e., removing invasive species or silt from an eroding bank; 3) the applicant can preserve parcels of land that contain wetlands, surface waters or vernal pools and are under threat of development, which is often done by working with a non-profit organization to place the parcels of land under a permanent conservation easement; or 4) the applicant can make a payment to the In Lieu Fee (ILF) Compensation Program, in which case those funds are used to provide grants to fund wetland conservation, creation or enhancement projects. 

Hoyle Tanner’s environmental experts have a full understanding of the pros and cons of each of these types of wetland mitigation and are able to determine what is best for each of our clients and their respective projects. In this example, our work with the Town over the past several decades gave us insight into the unique land conservation opportunity that could be used for wetland mitigation.

Part 3: Land Conservation – Protecting Wetlands While Achieving Development Goals

The Town of Jackman was proactive in their approach to future airport development, wetland mitigation and conservation goals with the assistance of Hoyle Tanner’s aviation staff. With an eye towards expanding the use of the airport and understanding that any wetland impacts that result from that development would require wetland mitigation, the Town purchased a 117-acre parcel of land along the beautiful Moose River to prepare for future airport development. This parcel of land is located within a floodplain delta for the Moose River and contains a variety of natural communities and habitats, including a 34-acre, rare spruce bog wetland and associated floodplain wetlands. Hoyle Tanner’s environmental permitting team worked with the Town,  DEP and USACE to come to an agreement that placing a conservation easement on this parcel of land, including both unique wetlands and the uplands surrounding them, would be an excellent wetland mitigation opportunity.

Part 4: The Connection

Hoyle Tanner’s staff continued to lead the Town through completion of the wetland mitigation process by working with all parties involved to place 57-acres of the Moose River parcel under a conservation easement to serve as compensatory mitigation for the development of a hangar, taxilane and an apron at the airport in 2010. The Forest Society of Maine (FSM) agreed to hold the easement because the parcel indirectly connects to other large conservation easements they hold in this region of Maine.

In 2021, Hoyle Tanner continued this effort to conserve the rest of that parcel, approximately 55 acres, under conservation easement with FSM so that the entire parcel, including 3,500 linear feet (or almost ¾ of a mile!) of the frontage along Moose River will be permanently protected from development.

Because of the extent of the wetland impacts for the runway expansion project, the conservation of the rest of the Moose River parcel was not enough to fully mitigate the project impacts. Hoyle Tanner led the team to identify two other parcels of land that will be placed into conservation: a 9-acre parcel of land along River Road that contains approximately 1,000 linear feet of frontage along Heald Stream, a tributary to Moose River; and, a 15-acre parcel of land on Tapley Road that also contains 1,700 linear feet of frontage along Heald Stream. Both of these parcels are owned by the Town and have frontage along a main road in Jackman, which means they could be developed in the future. By placing them under conservation easements to be held by FSM, this will allow for protection of the important floodplains and riparian buffers within the watershed of this stream. Hoyle Tanner coordinated the acceptance of these additional parcels of land conservation with DEP and USACE to successfully meet the permit conditions and fully mitigate the wetland impacts from the project.

Heald Stream frontage showing Alder floodplain wildlife habitat

In summary, because of the work that Hoyle Tanner completed with the Town of Jackman, the Forest Society of Maine, Maine DEP and USACE, this project:

  • Provided runway length allowing for much needed medical services to a rural area of Maine;
  • Avoided and minimized impacts to wetlands; and
  • Placed over 141 acres of land into permanent protection via conservation easement

Hoyle Tanner is pleased to partner with state, federal and local agencies and conservation organizations. Our environmental permitting experts are confident in determining land conservation opportunities for wetland mitigation at airports, among our other areas of expertise. Please contact me if you have questions about environmental permitting at your airport or municipality!

A Community Mobilizes in Support of a Runway Expansion

Construction photo on runway with sun and trees in background

The unlikely catalyst for the ongoing Runway 13-31 extension project at Newton Field in Jackman, Maine can be directly traced to an announcement by the Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC) in May 2017. That announcement stated that due to a lack of revenue, MaineGeneral Health (MGH) would be closing their nursing home and end management of overnight emergency and urgent care services in Jackman. The impact of that closure meant that the local emergency medical support services for the northern Maine region would be down to the one full-time physician in town and limited weekday service hours provided by the Jackman Community Health Center.

Jackman town officials and residents understood the broader implications to the community of MGH’s decision and immediately held a special public hearing to discuss their options. Approximately 150 attendees, including residents from nearby communities, business owners, and public officials, attended the meeting and expressed concern about the limited medical options remaining for the rural communities in the Moose River area.

Adding to these apprehensions, the Town realized they had few feasible options to address this critical lack of medical services. MGH was forced to close due to lack of revenue, thus, establishing any new in-town medical facility would be difficult. Funding was also unavailable to provide additional staff and training for an all-volunteer EMT crew from Jackman. Creation of an official route to seek nearby medical services across the international border, which are technically located closer to Jackman than Skowhegan or Greenville, would be unprecedented and logistically challenging. The most feasible option was to establish a reliable and time-efficient method of patient transport to the following trauma centers: Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor or Maine Medical Center in Portland. It was at this point during the meeting that the interim Jackman town manager and the director of LifeFlight of Maine reminded the community that as a public asset, the airport had the capacity to play a greater part in regional emergency and health services.

A Possible Solution

LifeFlight of Maine was already providing critical aeromedical services from Jackman to Redington-Fairview Hospital in Skowhegan during warmer temperatures via helicopter. In the winter however, without anti-ice systems, the helicopter is not equipped to fly in freezing precipitation. LifeFlight does operate a King Air B200 fixed wing aircraft with a certification for flight in known icing conditions and can be used for emergency medical transport in specific winter conditions. The King Air B200 seemed like the logical solution to serve this rural community with a direct need for medical support. There remained, however, one problem: In order for the King Air to operate out of Jackman, the airport would need to widen, extend, and rehabilitate the existing Runway 13-31 pavement surface.

The Airport turned to the aviation experts at Hoyle Tanner to assist them to first identify and then secure the funding necessary to complete the needed runway improvements. The initial project development step required an Airport Master Plan Update. The emphasis of this planning effort was on examining and documenting regional medical and socio-economic conditions along with evaluating runway length requirements to support Lifeflight of Maine fixed wing aeromedical flights. The master plan would include environmentally and financially feasible runway alternatives that would be examined in more detail in subsequent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and state/federal permitting efforts. Another major component of a master plan is public outreach. Public involvement has its greatest impact during the early stages of the planning process. With this in mind, the Town advertised that the public could initially provide input during the airport master plan update scoping meeting. The Town held another public meeting to kick off the master plan update process. During this meeting, preliminary runway alternatives were shared, and the public demonstrated overwhelming support both at the meeting and through letters of support. Ultimately the master plan update recommended a series of short-term Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) necessary to support the dimensions and configuration that would meet current FAA design standards for B-II runways and would be able to be used by LifeFlight’s airplane.

A Plan in Action

The first short term CIP project proposed for 2019 included an Environmental Assessment (EA) and permitting for the runway expansion. After review of the EA and upon receiving a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) from FAA, the Jackman Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to move ahead with widening, extending, and rehabilitating Runway 13-31 from its current 60-foot-wide, 2,900-foot-long to 75-feet-wide by 3,600-feet-long to permit LifeFlight of Maine’s B-200 fixed wing aircraft to safely access the field. 

The 2020-21 obstruction removal phases included Land or Easement Acquisition of all, or a portion of property located on the Runway 31 end to acquire rights to access and removal of tree obstructions to the proposed runway approaches. Hoyle Tanner’s in-house drone team collected and analyzed drone-captured imagery to identify trees to be selectively cut to create unobstructed navigable airspace for arriving and departing aircraft in the proposed new runway configuration.

The humble roots of this project can be traced back to an announcement made in spring 2017. Now four years later with funding from FAA and MaineDOT, as well as tremendous community support, construction is under way at Newton Field. When construction is complete this fall, the northern Maine region will have a runway whose width, length and pavement strength support lifesaving aeromedical flights. 

Endangered Plants Hiding in Plain Sight!

Closeup of Hempvine Flowers

Did you know that the State of New Hampshire has a list of over 400 plant species that are classified as either endangered or threatened under the NH Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A)? The NH Natural Heritage Bureau maintains the state’s database of locations where the plants on this list have been identified. When a project is in the early stages of development, it is an important step to check this database to determine if a site may contain a habitat for one of these protected species.

What happens when—surprise—Natural Heritage Bureau determines that a site contains habitat for a listed plant? This determination is based on records of locations where the plants have been found, and those records can be recent or old, and based on site conditions that may have shifted over time. For example, a record noting a historical population of field plants may no longer be on a site that is currently a developed building and parking lot. Sometimes by reviewing the site records and history along with information regarding current site conditions, Hoyle Tanner’s staff can  determine if that plant may or may not be located on the site. In cases where that kind of preliminary analysis cannot be used to rule out the presence of a listed plant, the next step in the process would be to have an experienced botanist perform a field review of the site to look for the plant. Often this needs to be completed during a certain time of year, for example, when the plant is flowering, since with certain species of plants, it can be tricky to identify the protected species from another similar looking species. Natural Heritage Bureau staff can sometimes complete this field review, or a qualified botanist, such as Joanne Theriault at Hoyle Tanner, can do the site work instead.

Case Study: Finding Unexpected Species

Hoyle Tanner has been working with a municipality on a bridge replacement project. This work requires a wetland permit from New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), and per their permit requirements, a review of the Natural Heritage Bureau records for state-listed plants was completed. Natural Heritage Bureau reported the endangered Engelmann’s quillwort (Isoetes engelmannii) was reported in a historical record from 1946 in a location downstream of the bridge and proposed work area. Because of this historical record, and the fact that the site contains habitat for this plant that is similar to the habitat where it was previously found, Natural Heritage Bureau staff conducted a site review to see if these plants were growing in the project area.

Natural Heritage Bureau did not find Englemann’s quillwort; however, a new, previously unidentified population of a different endangered plant, climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens), was found within the proposed work areas.

A Balancing Act: What to Do When you Find an Endangered Plant?  

This particular bridge has undergone extensive engineering analysis to determine how best to keep this important piece of the Town’s infrastructure safely operational. The bridge was determined by New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to be “functionally obsolete,” which means that it is not built to current standards and may have inadequate lane widths, shoulder widths, or vertical clearances to serve the current traffic demand. Repairs to the bridge were deemed infeasible because the cost of necessary repairs to bring the bridge to current standards would be comparable to the cost of installing a new bridge. The engineering team at Hoyle Tanner examined the proposed replacement in light of the identified plants’ locations to avoid and minimize impacts to these plants; however, it was determined that some clumps would not be able to be avoided.

Hoyle Tanner worked with Natural Heritage Bureau to determine if the plants in the work areas could be transplanted to new locations. After reviewing the specific habitat needs and ecology of this species, it was determined that the plants would likely survive a transplanting effort if similar habitat could be identified to serve as their new homes. Hoyle Tanner turned to a locally experienced botanist Basswood Environmental LLC to assist in identifying options along the river that could provide such habitat.

Luckily, the Town, and the Southeast Land Trust, have been very proactive in preserving parcels of land that abut the river. Sites that are currently protected under conservation easements that have frontage along the river are currently being investigated to determine the best possible location for replanting. Once those sites have been agreed upon with the landowner, Natural Heritage Bureau and the Town, the plants will be moved. Based on this plant’s unique life cycle, Hoyle Tanner is targeting early October 2021 for this to take place. Hoyle Tanner’s Environmental Coordinators Deb Coon, Joanne Theriault, and myself will assist Natural Heritage Bureau staff and Mr. Lema in the transplanting efforts.

While it is often a surprise to discover that an endangered or threatened plant species are growing on a project site, it does not have to be an unhappy one. Protection of state-listed plants can be an important part of any infrastructure project that we design, manage and permit at Hoyle Tanner. Our team of knowledgeable professionals is capable of working with clients and regulatory staff to ensure that the efforts required to meet the state and federal requirements for such protection are in line with the project’s budget and schedule and do not result in significant delays or additional costs. Contact me for more information about endangered and threatened species!

Competitive Grant Writing 101: 7 Tips to “Show You the Money!”

Photo of papers on desk with person writing on them

Competitive grants can be a big help for project owners who are responsible for large, complicated and expensive infrastructure improvement projects.  Whether potential grants originate from federal agencies, such as the USDOT or the EPA, state agencies, or local entities, the competition can be fierce and funding requests typically significantly outweigh what is available. So, you have a great project in mind – what do you have to do to position your project over the tens, hundreds or thousands of others that are pursuing the same pot of gold? Here are some opinions and helpful hints that may guide you to success!

Be Prepared and Get Started Early.

Be Prepared and Get Started Early. Competitive grant applications require extensive and detailed information and the submissions may have short turnaround times. If you wait to do your conceptual planning or develop a convincing “purpose and need” for the project until the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is issued, you may be too late. For example, the recent $1 billion RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) Grant from USDOT was released on April 23, 2021, and applications were due no later than July 12th – a 12-week turnaround. This may seem like a lot of time, but it disappears quickly considering what needs to be included in a solid application, even if you retain a consultant to assist and do the heavy lifting.  In anticipation of a NOFO being issued, having a completed feasibility study, conceptual plan, project cost estimates, public support and other elements of a strong application can go a long way – there just isn’t time to prepare and collect the information once the NOFO is issued as the application preparation itself can be intense.

Be Objective about Your Project.

Does your project truly check off the boxes that the funding agency is looking for with regard to safety, socio-economic benefits, state of good repair, improvements to quality of life, life cycle analysis, benefit vs. cost analysis, and other important elements? Competitive grant applications such as TIGER, BUILD, RAISE and others can be time-consuming and expensive to prepare. Make sure you are looking at your project objectively against the required criteria and not simply justifying its worthiness by your personal attachment to its local importance. Answer this – why would the funding agency want to participate?  The funding will only buy so many ribbon-cuttings — so why yours?

Tell the Story of the Project.

Picture this – you are a reviewer of applications in Washington, D.C. and you have a stack of 500 applications to wean down to those deserving further review to eventually make a recommendation of a certain number to the ultimate decision-maker, maybe the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The recent RAISE grant application had a 30-page limit for the project narrative – for 500 applications that could total over 15,000 pages of project content to review!  Make it interesting – don’t make it read like an engineering report cluttered with facts and data (not that those aren’t important).  The reviewers aren’t all engineers – some have business backgrounds, while others may have a pure administrative or political background.  Use graphics and maps wherever possible. Sell your project in a way that it meets the funding requirements and tells an engaging story of the positive impacts of local, regional and possibly national importance.

Be Invested and Don’t Just “Take a Shot” and Hope for the Best.

If it looks like the application is presenting a project that will die a quick death without grant funding maybe it isn’t really all that vital and you are only presenting the project for the money. Funding agencies (and politicians) hope your project is important enough that somehow it will move forward even without the grant funding – grant funding would simply accelerate the benefits to the taxpayers. Your application must demonstrate that there is significant funding in place, or debt service, to be able to fund the project and the grant funding will help that much more to defray local costs.

Don’t Ask for the Moon.

Request the real amount that you need for the project after significant investment from other sources. If 95% of the project costs are proposed to be through the competitive grant funding that may not inspire a lot of confidence in the preparedness of the project owner to be able to move the project forward. For instance, with a set amount of funding to spread around, two $10 million ribbon cuttings creates more photo opportunities than one $20 million ribbon cutting. There should be a strategy in the amount requested compared to your other competing interests and funding commitments. Answer this too – if you got the grant funding to offset costs, what would you do with the money that was offset? What other problem could you / would you solve for the taxpayers?

Last but not Least – Check and Double-Check the Format for the Submission.

Most competitive grant applications have very strict composition requirements including the table of contents, page limits, and font types and sizes, just to name a few. Make sure you are thoroughly familiar with each of these requirements and you are adhering to them during the preparation of the application – not as a final task right before the submission is due.

Submit Early if Possible.

Don’t let technological glitches, like an internet failure, get in the way of your million-dollar request being accepted. Many grant application processes allow the applicant to submit their application electronically and update it or resubmit components up to the deadline published in the NOFO. There may also be registrations, passwords, user accounts or other things like that which should be set up early – make sure those tasks are done well in advance. Nobody wants to be sitting at the keyboard being denied access to the submission website or during a power outage within the hour the submission is due. Plan days ahead and rest easy.

Grants can make a big difference in the success of your project – but competition can be fierce. NOFO’s are issued throughout the year so know in advance what funding may be available and when. Being ready and preparing a quality grant application can make all the difference.