Franklin Press October 28, 2009

DOT project: Cat
Creek going natural

By Colin McCandless
pressreporter@thefranklinpress.com

If you live in the Holly
Springs community of
Franklin you likely have noticed
all the stream work occurring
along Cat Creek near
Ferguson and Jack Cabe
roads, and may have been
wondering just what was
going on there.

The construction is part of
a stream restoration effort
called the Cat Creek Project
that is designed to stabilize
eroding stream banks and improve
habitat for fish and
other wildlife along a degraded
section of the waterway.

It is being overseen by a
unique collaborative program
of the state called the Ecosystem
Enhancement Program (EEP), an initiative housed
within the North Carolina
Department of Environment
and Natural Resources
(DENR) and funded by the
DOT.

At an Oct. 26 Cat Creek
site visit, EEP project manager
Paul Wiesner told The
Press the project entails a
combination of stream enhancement
and stream
restoration.

The project will restore
and protect more than 1.6
miles of stream through four
properties, three owned by
the NC Department of Transportation
(DOT) and one
owned by Jim and Sue Waldroop
of Holly Springs. The
restoration was originally designed
to cover more than 6.3
acres, 5.3 acres of which are
restoration and the rest that is
enhancement. They will likely
end up with more than
that, according to Wiesner.

“I think we’re going to
end up having more wetland
restoration than we originally
designed for because we
removed some soil to get
down to the original wetland
soils and groundwater came
right up,” Wiesner said. “So
it’s been a lot more successful
wetland project than we originally
thought.”

Construction manager
Steve Foster is working with
Earth Tech, the group that designed
the project, to ensures
the design plans are implemented
properly. He said
there has been a lot of curiosity
about what they are
doing there.

Wiesner said they explain
they are doing mitigation
work — fixing or protecting
wetlands or streams — to address
impacts that are within
the watershed.

The EEP does work primarily
for the DOT, but they
also have an in-lieu fee program
that allows them to do
mitigation for a developer.
EEP tries to improve a
stream or wetland back to its
natural state, which in turn
gives the fish and other
wildlife better habitat.

“The general improvements
of the stream pattern
and profile are all going to
benefit fish and aquatic
macroinvertebrates,” added
Foster, who lives in Franklin.
“It (Cat Creek) was formerly
a highly intense stream
through most of its runs, so
by bringing it up and allowing
it to have access to the
floodplain, we’re able to
bleed off energy and try to
put it in a position where
there’s less damage as a result
of flood events, plus provide
these benefits for the
aquatic animals.”

One significant aspect of
the project involves restoring
wetlands along portions of
Cat Creek by removing fill
dirt from an old golf course
that formerly used portions
of the project site, restoring
the original wetland soil elevation
and allowing wetland
plants and wildlife to thrive.

Work at the DOT-owned
Parker Tract included a full
wetland restoration that entailed
building a newly redesigned
stream channel.

Portions of the wetland
areas were originally agricultural
property and the golf
course. Conduit had previously
been installed to drain
the wetland area and fill dirt
had been added to accommodate
these former uses.

While using fill and draining
the wetland were helpful
for those uses, they had the
effect of degrading the natural
state of Cat Creek along
with its habitat, Wiesner said.
Crews removed the fill
material and the drains to develop
more natural channels
and restore wetlands.

The groundwater levels in
the wetland are coming back
nicely, according to Foster
and Wiesner.

“It has not dried up since
we did the excavation,” Foster
said.

Along stream portions
that had been straightened for
agricultural purposes and severely
eroding parts of the
stream, the project has moved
the creek back into its original
position in the floodplain
and given it a more meandering,
natural course.

“Streams naturally want
to have that S-pattern,” said
Wiesner, who is based out of
EEP’s Asheville office. The
goal is to lower the slope of
the stream channel and flatten
it out a little.

“If you have a channel
that is long, straight and deep
and the water can’t get up, it’s
just going to gain power,”
Wiesner said.

This more natural winding
pattern will slow the
water and reduce pressure on
the banks where you would
have erosion, according to
Wiesner and Foster.

Other construction along
the more stable sections of
the stream will lower stream
banks and enhance fish habitats
such as pools and small
rocky rapids.

To control erosion, materials
such as matting, grass
seed and straw mulch are
used to stabilize bare soil
daily, and contractors will
plant grasses, wildflowers,
shrubs and trees this winter
in order to provide shade and
stabilization for the creek and
wetland areas. The shade will
also cool down habitat.

Wiesner said all the vegetation
is native to North Carolina
and typically indigenous
to this specific area.

The lowest, most downstream
section of the work,
located at the DOT-owned
Preserve tract, features a log
vane that ties into the stream
channel and roils water out
of the turn.

The streambank here had
been highly undercut. The
whole bank was shaped and
workers put in a brush mat to
help provide woody vegetation
(typically willow and
silky dogwood) that will support
the bank and serve almost
as a type of living
stream bank protection.

The hope is that it will
revegetate this bend quickly
and give more stability to the
stream bank, Wiesner said.
Wiesner said the idea behind
the EEP is natural channel
design.

Foster added, “The whole
thing functions as a system
to try to protect this bank.”

Most of the Cat Creek
Project is DOT-owned but
the Waldroops donated a conservation
easement on part of
the stream that passes
through their farm.

DOT Funded

Wiesner said people have
been asking him and others
working at the site how the
project is being funded.
DOT is funding the Cat
Creek Project, to compensate
for unavoidable environmental
damage caused by
transportation-improvement
projects, as well as fees paid
to compensate for environmental
impacts from other
development projects within
the Little Tennessee watershed.

The DOT funds all
EEP projects.

Foster said a number of
people had expressed concern
that this project was
being funded through stimulus
money and wondered
why a Raleigh-based group
got the construction contract.

Wiesner explained that
EEP has an on call list for designers
that is updated every
two years. The design company
that was on their list at
the time got the design work.

The contract was sent out
to bid. Any contractor could
bid on the project as long as
they had a highway or unclassified
rating license, and
there were no other pre-qualifications,
Wiesner said.

For the Cat Creek competitive
bid process, approximately
60 people showed
up, including a number of
local companies. They
awarded the bid to the lowest
bidder, which happened
to be Fluvial Solutions out of
Raleigh.

Project Timeline

The Cat Creek project has
been in the works for five
years, according to Wiesner.
Generally EEP endeavors can
take anywhere from two to
three years after contacting
landowners, but this is an
atypical project in that it originally
started as a DOT project
and transitioned to the
EEP.

It is also atypical in that
DOT owns three of the four
parcels involved in the project,
as most of their work is
primarily done through conservation
easements with
property owners.

The design phase of the
project also took a while and
construction began in August.
Fluvial Solutions, which
is handling construction, has
180 days to complete the
work. They should be finished
by Jan. 14, 2010 according
to Wiesner.

“They’re ahead of schedule,”
Wiesner said. “They’re
approximately 80-percent
done with the project.”

After construction is complete,
the EEP will monitor
the project area for five years
and do any further stabilization
fixing work that is necessary.
After the five-year term it
goes to a long-term stewardship
where once or twice a
year someone from DENR
will check the easement and
ensure there are no violations.

The EEP has also developed
a Franklin-to-Fontana
watershed plan, which allows
them to look at the watershed
and determine where their
projects would give the most
uplift to the environment and
natural systems. Wiesner’s
job is implementing the plans
on the ground.

Cat Creek and Rabbit
Creek are part of the plan.
“I think this project will
work nicely in improving
water quality in this portion
of the watershed,” he said.
Wiesner said they will be
looking for new projects in
the area in the next year or so
and encourage people to contact
him about potential projects.

For more information
on the Cat Creek project, call
Wiesner at (828) 273-1673.