Stream Restoration Construction: The Value in Pre-Qualifying (written by: Phillip Todd)

Stream restoration construction is highly specialized and vastly different from most other construction projects up for bid. As the science and implementation of stream restoration advanced, a fundamental need for contractors experienced in this specific area has been revealed. Therefore, it is valuable, and possibly critical, to hire and/or pre-qualify contractors.

Just as stream design requires practioners with training and understanding of stream function, so it is in an entity’s best interest to hire a contractor with stream restoration project experience and training. Many entities, including mitigation bankers, in Georgia and the southeast have: 1) required only experienced contractors provide bids; 2) implemented pre-qualification prior to project bidding; and/or, 3) required qualifications be submitted as part of the project bid. There are many reasons why these entities have chosen pre-qualification prior to bid or as part of the bid submittal.

The goal of stream restoration is to restore, as needed, a stream’s pattern, dimension and profile in order to achieve the greatest ecological uplift to a degraded stream. The ability to restore the channel is dependent upon the designer/ assessor’s knowledge and review of why the channel is not stable and/or functioning in its current ecological state and upon designing the channel to achieve functional uplift. A stream design may reflect the most effective manner to restore the channel, but, if construction of the stream dimensions, in-stream structures and stabilization methods are not implemented correctly, then the stream restoration project will not achieve its goals and functional uplift and/or the project may result in greater degradation of the stream. Detailed implementation of key components of the work is required for the stream work to function per the plans of a trained, qualified designer.

Most contractors are used to constructing projects that involve static systems. Streams are not static systems, but dynamic systems. It is likely that the stream permitted for restoration has changed since the initial assessment, and the contractor will have to work with the designer to confirm that any plan adjustments ensure the channel is stable and functioning as designed.

Other reasons why it is good to hire and/or pre-qualify a contractor with stream construction is that it will likely save money for the project sponsor. There are several reasons for this. First, by hiring an experience contractor, the project sponsor will minimize the field time needed for Construction Administration. It has been our experience that two meetings/ field visits may be needed the first week of construction as contractor and designer understand each other, the plans and how to implement the project. Second, the hiring of an experience stream contractor eliminates and/or minimizes the need for the designer to be on-site directing the contractor on what to do. Hiring an inexperienced contractor will necessitate the designer to be on-site more often, explaining the plans and operations, and this can lead to increased costs for the project sponsor. By the designer directing the contractor in its operations, the designer is taking on more responsibility than he/she has under the company’s liability insurance. The situation may also lead to the contractor making a claim or legal action against the project sponsor and/or the designer. Finally, hiring a qualified stream contractor likely reduces the amount of channel or in-stream structure re-work because the items were not installed correctly. Items of interest include: the slope and angle of in-stream structures and how coir fiber matting is keyed into the bank.

In many states, such as NC, it is the law that a qualified stream contractor be hired to implement a project. The NC Department of Transportation is required under General Statute 136-28.1 that the contractor be a ‘responsible bidder’, and this term is clarified under NC Action Code 19A 02D.0801 that ‘bidders and subcontractors shall be prequalified with the Department to ensure that they are responsible bidders’. The NC Ecosystem Enhancement Program, the entity responsible for the state’s in lieu fee program and completing all off-site mitigation work for the NCDOT, is required under NC Session Law 2011-343 that it pre-qualify contractors for its design-bid-build projects.

In addition to likely cost savings for a project sponsor by pre-qualifying contractors to implement stream restoration projects, there are other benefits. Assuming pre-qualification of contractors occurs before a public bid, the notice of pre-qualification notifies the construction community that a bid is coming and allows ‘qualified’ firms to be shortlisted to submit a bid. This upfront notification allows the qualified contractor to plan its estimating capacity to provide a bid for the project. The pre-qualification of contractors by a project sponsor also provide confidence in the sponsor’s relationship with the regulatory and resource agencies. Based on River Works experience, these agencies will recognize the sponsor’s commitment to the project and to the environment, as well as its effort to have the project implemented with minimal, future adaptive management.

As with any process, there are also limitations to pre-qualifying contractors. These limitations include:
1) the potential to limit the pool of contractors to submit bids for construction;
2) the potential to limit a contractor into this type of construction;
3) the cost to implement a pre-qualification system. The systems adds cost to project implementation so the pre-qualification information can be reviewed by the project sponsor or designer; and,
4) the time required to include the pre-qualification process into the project implementation schedule.

There are several items to consider when planning a pre-qualification. The first consideration is whether the pre-qualification should be a single project or a comprehensive/ multi-year pre-qualification. If the project sponsor anticipates several stream projects within a certain time period, then a comprehensive pre-qualification is recommended because it may be worthwhile investment instead of having to request qualifications for each individual project.

The second consideration involves when the pre-qualification should occur. Pre-qualification can occur: 1) weeks before the bid so a list of qualified contractors is known; 2) at the bid opening, the pre-qualification information is reviewed prior to opening a bid; 3) at the bid opening after the bids are opened, the pre-qualification is reviewed; or, 4) within a ‘reasonable’ time after the bid opening the qualifications are submitted and reviewed. There are benefits and limitations to the contractor and project sponsor with each option of potential pre-qualification.

The third consideration is, what information should be requested in a pre-qualification application. General information commonly required in a pre-qualification application is: company information, including, but not limited to, registration to conduct business in the state and general contractors license; appropriate bonding and insurance; good financial standing; existing workload; past performance; and, proven safety record. With past performance, it is recommended that a contractor demonstrate in the pre-qualification that it has experience with implementing in-stream structures which will be installed as part of the proposed stream restoration project.

About the Author: Mr. Phillip Todd works as Vice President for River Works, Inc. (www.riverwork.com), a specialized construction company focused on stream restoration, wetland restoration, invasive species treatment and riparian planting. He has over 21 years in the environmental industry working in several job capacities for the NC Department of Transportation and a private engineering firm prior to joining River Works in October 2011. He has a Master of Public Administration degree from NC State University where he focused on environmental policy. Mr. Todd has completed Applied Fluvial Geomorphology (Level I), River Assessment & Monitoring Course (Level II,) River Assessment & Monitoring Course (Level III) and River Restoration & Natural Channel Design (Level IV) with Dave Rosgen. He is also a graduate of the NC State University’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute: Resolving Conflict Through Leadership. While working at River Works for the past 3 years, he has completed over 35 pre-qualifications for stream and/or wetland restoration projects.
Contact information:

Phillip Todd
River Works, Inc
Email: phillip.todd@riverwork.com
Office: 919-582-3574