Managing Environmental Compliance on Light Rail Expansion

As a large, high-profile construction project, the Sacramento Regional Transit District’s (RT) $270-million Blue Line extension includes the challenge of melding environmental compliance and construction schedules to keep the project moving forward.

First-stage construction includes an aerial structure spanning two creeks supporting habitat for the federally and state-listed threatened giant garter snake, the state-listed threatened Swainson’s hawk, and two species of concern to the state—western pond turtle and western burrowing owl.

Habitat along and adjacent to the creeks supports a multitude of native nesting birds, and seasonal wetlands occur near the confluence of the creeks.

The project traverses the Sacramento County Regional Sanitation District “bufferlands” open space, separating wastewater treatment facilities from public areas. The bufferlands are managed as wildlife habitat by a Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (SRCSD) biologist and support an amazing diversity of nesting birds and other sensitive resources, including wetlands and native grasslands.

Biology monitors combining real-world construction knowledge with in-depth environmental expertise are better equipped to handle the challenges of high-profile construction projects.As part of the construction team, Dudek is managing environmental compliance with regulatory permit and environmental impact report stipulations and mitigation measures. Dudek is also providing environmental awareness training to all on-site construction workers.

Dudek Biologist Kevin Derby, who is leading the environmental compliance effort, offers the following tips for successful compliance on a complex linear construction project:

Gaining project proponent support. Proactive support to the compliance program from the project proponent is a critical foundation. Ed Scofield, RT project management director, said, “RT is committed to environmental compliance and has built an excellent reputation with the resource agencies over the years because of this commitment. We recognize ongoing cooperation, and communication with biology monitors is very important to the success of this phase of construction.”

Positioning monitors as team members. Rather than establishing monitors as enforcement personnel, it is more effective to position them as part of the overall project team with the role to educate and to identify issues early so they can be addressed to help keep the project moving forward.

Assigning construction-experienced monitors. Biology monitors who combine real-world construction knowledge with in-depth environmental expertise are better equipped to handle the challenges of a large, high-profile construction project. Equally important, an experienced construction management team and crew who understand the importance of natural resources and environmental compliance can significantly improve interaction.

Identifying issues for early resolution. Experience and teamwork helps monitors and construction crews adapt to unforeseen conditions, make decisions, and find ways to keep a project moving forward.

Open communication between the construction team and compliance team is critical to identify and address potential issues before they become big problems. Resource agencies and other stakeholders, such as the Regional Sanitation District bufferlands team, need to be proactively informed about avoidance and minimization measures and the status of the biological resources in the project area.

Effective communication should focus on establishing and following communication protocols by integrating environmental training programs into routine construction safety training.

Managing post-construction compliance to close. Permit compliance experts also play a key role of managing post-construction compliance activities and timely coordination with regulatory agencies to help the project achieve regulatory sign-off for all environmental permits.