Editor’s Comments: Giving Erosion Control a Seat at the Table

Sept. 11, 2012

While the economic picture has brightened for many of us and our potential clients, the lessons of the past few years have left an indelible stamp on the entire industry. As most of us in construction have seen, our clients are demanding a greater degree of justification for expenditures that don’t relate to their projected revenue streams, erosion control being a choice example of practices receiving special scrutiny.

To complicate the issue further, corporate staffs have become more sophisticated regarding regulatory and remedial activities over the past four years. Where once it was rare to find clients who were familiar with environmental requirements and practices-and therefore often less critical of consultants’ and contractors’ recommendations-the reverse is more apt to be the case today. Not only are clients well versed in available BMPs, but they are able also to perform constructive reviews of your work. Moreover, they are in a much better position to require more innovative and cost-effective solutions in meeting regulatory requirements. In the current terminology, contractors are now required to “add value” to all their projects. In response to increasing competition in the marketplace, you now must choose between the traditional approach of competing for jobs on the basis of price, or adopting a different strategy by looking for ways to add value to the client’s operations.

The operable word here is “partnering,” but what does that mean? For some clients it is a convenient way of buying added services at discount; for others a quick-and-dirty way of getting more work without having to go through the competitive bidding process. But both are short-sighted visions of what the concept offers. True partners, whether they be contractors, engineers, or owners, are those who share both in the risks and the rewards of the projects in which they have a mutual interest…and in a manner that matches them all. While some contractors look for innovative ways to sell their services-some form of “sweat equity” or a formulation of fees based on savings realized by the customer-others focus on innovative ways to address their clients’ problems. Sometimes this involves the use of new technologies, but just as often it’s a matter of breaking out of self-imposed compartments to find new and imaginative solutions to old problems.

Breaking Down Barriers
One of the greatest challenges dirtmoving contractors face is that of having erosion control stuffed into a compartment away from the mainstream of construction tasks. It isn’t that project owners don’t take the many aspects of earthwork seriously-the stakes are just too high for slap-dash efforts these days-it’s more apt to be a matter of mindset in which is various elements can be held separate and distinct from the main thrust of the project. Not only does such an attitude place limitations on the selection and effectiveness of the practices available to the planner, it ignores the contribution that erosion control has to the overall success of the project.

There are any number of examples, but let me use the case of a landfill to illustrate my point. While landfill erosion control may appear to some to be just another earthmoving project, it is, in fact, a highly complex undertaking involving a number of elements that must work together to produce the final result. Unlike most construction projects, a landfill is a moving target from the day the first bulldozer blade bites dirt until the final cap is in place. Put another way, erosion control at landfills doesn’t retreat into a maintenance mode until long-term vegetative cover is established. Design and construction of landfill erosion control systems that don’t anticipate changes in configuration and, therefore, exposure to erosive forces are almost certain to be unnecessarily costly to operate and maintain, could complicate closure and post-closure requirements, and may expose the landfill to legal and regulatory action. This last is especially critical where erosion is responsible for the offsite flow of leachate, material that has come in contact with waste, or the airborne transport of dust, odor, and perhaps even pathogens.

Granted, a landfill is a particularly handy example, but when you look at the life cycle cost of almost any construction project, the erosion control contribution to the total is far greater than most developers might anticipate.