Case Study: Matting system helps wetlands project protect sensitive area from construction damage

A composite mat system helped construction teams and equipment gain access to CO flood-damaged wetlands while preserving sensitive areas not affected by the flooding.  

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April 8, 2014

According to the most recent Status and Trends Wetlands report issued by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, America's wetlands continue to decline. While these losses have eased from 2004-2009 (the latest data available), this persistent deterioration highlights the need for ongoing preservation efforts and wetland mitigation nationwide.

It was precisely for this reason that in 1989, then President George H. W. Bush established the national "no-net-loss of wetlands" policy. This executive order was issued with the goal of balancing any wetlands loss due to economic development with reclamation, replacement or mitigation efforts.

Stan Miller Inc., a Colorado-based excavation and deep utility contractor has often worked with local ski resorts to repair flood-damaged wetlands and creeks on federal lands. The company has also worked with private developers to replace low-quality isolated wetlands with high-quality contiguous wetlands.

Rained Out and Looking for a Way In

Stan Miller Project Manager Mike Arbuckle recalls one such project. A local ski area, situated on U.S. Forest Service property, was inundated during a severe rainstorm, causing flash flooding that washed out a number of creeks in the area. This flooding impacted adjacent wetlands, which were damaged by the resulting debris. With the oversight of the U.S. Forest Service, Stan Miller was employed by the ski area to access this sensitive location and collect the debris, as well as to assist biologists with restoring the wetlands to their original state.

Part of the challenge in correcting the flood-damaged location was to gain access to the worksite while preserving sensitive areas not affected by the flooding. Accessing these sites often presents logistical issues where the existing conditions will not support the weight of the equipment necessary to complete the repair. Past solutions have included construction of temporary roads using earth materials, aggregate products and geo-synthetic grids or fabrics. This solution was not only time-consuming and expensive but could potentially create more damage than was being repaired, compounding the related expense.

In the past, the Stan Miller team had attempted access to the worksite using wooden mats. Heavy and awkward, the mats were difficult to set and, more importantly, to keep in place. Repeated cycling of heavy equipment would force frequent resetting of the mats and cause delays to the schedule, especially when considering that access is usually limited to "one way in, one way out". Wooden mats were an inefficient solution to a difficult problem.

In the face of these challenges, the Stan Miller team had to find a new way of working -- one that would ensure they could get the job done with limited damage and minimal cost. During their research, they discovered the DURA-BASE® Advanced-Composite Mat System from Lafayette-based Newpark Mats and Integrated Services (NMIS). Intrigued by the product's unique interlocking design, precision engineering and heavy-duty, yet lightweight construction, Stan Miller reached out to NMIS Superintendent Kirk Black, who quickly set a time to visit the project location.

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The interlocking design of the DURA-BASE system allowed the mats to easily fit together with a patented, twist-lock system.

Getting to Work Repairing Wetlands

Once they arrived, the NMIS team worked hand-in-hand with the Stan Miller team, showing them how to properly deploy and install the DURA-BASE system. The Stan Miller team was impressed with how the system's easy installation provided access to the worksite within a few hours and how its durability allowed equipment to remain on the mats during the installation process.

The interlocking design of the DURA-BASE system allows the mats to easily fit together with a patented, twist-lock system. This feature provided a smooth, continuous work surface while protecting the ground beneath. The system also eliminated the differential movement and gapping common to wooden mats; the DURA-BASE mats were able to effectively distribute the weight of the heavy equipment and trucks required to work in this environmentally-sensitive area. "The locking system of the DURA-BASE mats and their terrain flexibility really makes a huge difference; it keeps everything together and prevents sliding," said Arbuckle.

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The DURA-BASE mats were able to effectively distribute the weight of the heavy equipment and trucks required to work in this environmentally-sensitive area.

Using the DURA-BASE system, Stan Miller's crew was able to access the affected region and repair the damaged wetlands quickly and efficiently, reducing the risk of injury or potential environmental damage. While the U.S. Forest Service was very impressed with the system and the negligible effect that it had on the existing wetlands during the repair, according to Arbuckle, they were even more pleased the following year when the access road showed no signs of impact.

Bottom line

Utilizing an innovative solution, the Stan Miller team was able to access an area that would have otherwise presented huge logistical challenges. "Access to the site using conventional methods would have cost in excess of $40,000, created additional (hard-to-correct) damage and delayed our project schedule, ultimately leaving the U.S. Forest Service apprehensive," said Arbuckle.

Moving Ahead

Stan Miller Inc. now uses the DURA-BASE system on any job that requires access to sensitive areas. Always working to provide its clients with performance-based solutions, the company sees this technology as a competitive advantage on these types of projects. They recently used the system to save time and related costs in another wetlands mitigation project associated with the construction of a well-known retail location in Frisco, Colo. The project had a high public profile, so the DURA-BASE system also proved invaluable for maintaining a clean and efficient worksite.

The owner in this case insisted that access to the mitigation site was stable and that no additional work would be required to start construction. However, it was immediately determined that the access point could not support the weight of the equipment. Fortunately, from the company's successful experiences with Newpark Mats and Integrated Services, Stan Miller had a solution at hand. Once again, Stan Miller Inc. was able to partner with NMIS to complete a project in a highly-sensitive area for an owner with limited time and budget.

See also:

"Survey shows wetlands losses are slowing but continue"

"Connectivity of created wetlands crucial to their health, finds new research"


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