Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

2 pics showing deep cut, eroded banks
Before (VDOT)
2 pics showing backhoe and workers
Reconstruction (VDOT)
2 pics showing reconstructed, naturalized banks
After. (VDOT)

Virginia Department of Transportation

Virginia's South Fork Rockfish River Restoration

A 2-mile reach of the South Fork of the Rockfish River in Nelson County, Virginia used to be an eyesore. Years of over-grazing and channel-straightening had created an unhealthy, braided river channel and denuded, de-stabilized river banks. Instead of flowing over mid-stream rock piles and fallen trees, the river skirted around them, eroding the banks. Huge sections of the bare, 8- to 12-foot-high banks regularly collapsed into the river. Natural pools and meanders were non-existent.

What was once an eyesore is now a scenic landscape and a vastly improved riparian buffer. More than 10,000 linear feet of the South Fork have been restored (3,000 feet more than were required by regulatory agencies), and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) crews and contractors are preparing to plant 22,000 native tree seedlings along its banks.

This VDOT project began as an effort to mitigate stream impacts resulting from the construction of the 13-mile U.S. 29 Madison Heights Bypass. The VDOT consulted the Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Friends of the Rockfish Watershed, and participants in a Citizens for a Rural Nelson County workshop to help find a stream site suitable for restoration. At the same time, a team of environmental engineers surveyed the entire Rockfish River, recording physical features of potential mitigation sites. The results were compiled into a database and applied to a Geographic Information System map. The South Fork reach was chosen for its potential to maximize environmental benefits and to advance regional conservation goals.

Normally, VDOT would have used a highway-construction contract for a mitigation project like this one, but the size and complexity of the project required an independent, dynamic approach. For example, since the highly unstable channel was continually changing, VDOT needed a contract that would allow on-the-spot design changes.

The project team opted for an administrative services contract, hiring operators, equipment and materials but managing the entire project itself. To reverse the ravages of time, VDOT crews lengthened and slowed the stream, bringing it back into one single channel. They laid back vertical slopes, erected 55 "water-calming" rock structures, and restricted livestock access from 70 percent of the reach to two, 20-foot fenced sections. Soon they'll be planting alders, willows, and silky dogwoods to stabilize the river banks.

Using an administrative services contract saved both money and time. Under a standard contract, the project would have cost about $2.6 million. Instead, the project was bid at $1.4 million but actually cost less than $1 million, and construction was completed in less than five months--one month ahead of schedule.

Getting project buy-in from more than 20 area property owners involved extensive education and frequent negotiation, especially because of a 20 percent change in property ownership during the project. The result was gratifying. All of the property owners agreed to allow conservation easements on their land.

The success of the South Fork Rockfish River Restoration project was recently tested when Hurricane Rita dropped between 6-9 inches of rain on the project watershed. The restored system managed the floodwaters exceptionally well. The project won a 2005 Scenic Award for Most Creative Scenic Improvement from Scenic Virginia.

For more information, contact Richard C. Woody II, ricky.woody@vdot.virginia.gov

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