Staff Responsibility: Stephen J. Andrle
The West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) impacts more waterways than any other public institution in the state of West Virginia. The agency has invested considerable resources into research and programs meant to limit the impacts of its work and explore ways to improve mitigation opportunities, yet it has no programmatic approach suitable to regulatory agencies that would help streamline their planning and permitting process. Furthermore, these same regulatory agencies have also invested in many disparate research programs meant to track and improve environmental forecasting and accountability.
The objective of this project was to pilot test the Integrated Ecological Framework developed in SHRP 2 projects C06A (Integration of Conservation, Highway Planning, and Environmental Permitting Using an Outcome-Based Ecosystem Approach) and C06B (Integration of Conservation, Highway Planning, and Environmental Permitting Through Development of an Outcome-Based Ecosystem-Scale Approach and Corresponding Credit System). Working within the framework of current state and federal regulatory policy, and incorporating primary scientific literature, the research team attempted to streamline the planning process by integrating the planning steps into a comprehensive, applied ‘recipe’ book that could be used to improve methodologies to account for aquatic resources from a WVDOH policy-level perspective.
Study locations focused on the Coalfields Expressway and King Coal Highway, two highways currently planned and under construction in southern West Virginia. These highways—designed to promote economic development, decrease commuter time, and increase tourist opportunities—traverse a topographically challenging area dominated by steep slopes.
Several tools were evaluated for their efficacy within West Virginia. This study follows the guidelines developed by the Integrated Ecological Framework. While additional tools, such as the Watershed Resources Registry and NatureServe VISTA were evaluated, it became clear that a tool specific to West Virginia was necessary. The WVU-led, multidisciplinary team of academic and private researchers, shifted focus to draw upon regionally developed, environmental accounting and forecasting tools already vetted or in the process of development. These tools came from WVDOH and other state entities (West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection), and federally-funded (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) endeavors. Selected tools were then incorporated into a watershed approach to compensatory mitigation.
Using tacitly-approved methodologies was intended to promote reasonable ‘buy-in’ from regulatory agencies and in this way overcome the initial skepticism that often accompanies WVDOH environmental initiatives. Using the 1:24,000-scale segment level watershed as the unit of resolution, and by summarizing to the commonly used 8-digit hydrological unit code, the research team developed a framework to evaluate highway impacts on streams, wetlands, and terrestrial landscape integrity.
Status: This project is complete.