WEST FINLEY – A Pittsburgh company is embarking on the largest streambank restoration project in the Northeast in Washington County, using funds collected from a coal operator and developer of a natural gas pipeline to mitigate damages they caused to wetlands.
Resource Environmental Solutions will invest tens of millions of dollars to preserve 40 miles of the Robinson Fork watershed across 533 acres in West Finley Township, company and state officials said Thursday, when ground was officially broken on the project along Whiteman Road.
“You can’t have economic growth without protecting the environment,” RES Chief Executive Officer Elliot Bouillion said at the gathering in a open field surrounded by tall trees and bordering Robinson Fork. “It’s a win-win.”
The project is funded by Columbia Pipeline Group and Consol Energy under a program known as “mitigation banking” that allows them to pay for wetlands development elsewhere when it cannot take place at a site the companies developed. No taxpayer money will be used for restoration work.
Patrick McDonnell, acting secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the West Finley project is “truly an innovative solution to a serious problem.”
“This is important work,” McDonnell said, adding it’s the first time an entire watershed will be preserved in the state.
RES began field studies in February and worked with property owners to get access to the watershed before construction began on the mitigation work.
The company will collect data from healthy stream areas and either relocate the creeks in areas that are difficult to restore or takes steps to repair unstable banks that are contributing to the sediment problem.
“We want clean water, right?” said Conor Gillespie, an operations manager for RES.
He said the company will add carbon to the water in places and add other structures to improve the habitat.
The first phase of the project, which also includes planting of 68,350 trees and flood-control efforts, is expected to be completed this year.