Oversight by Professionals Improves E&SC on Tennessee Highway Construction Projects

Dec. 31, 2007

In 2004, following a series of incidents in which sediment discharged from Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) highway construction projects into nearby streams, the agency signed a consent order and agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

As one of the provisions, TDOT agreed to have all erosion prevention and sediment control plans designed or reviewed for proper best management practice (BMP) implementation, installation, and maintenance by an independent consultant who has a CPESC (Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control) certificate or has substantial professional experience in soil erosion and sediment control and has been approved, in writing, by the TDEC.

At the time, it was felt that many of the engineers who were designing the erosion and sediment control plans for TDOT projects could enhance their skills with additional training in the specialty area of erosion and sediment control, notes Jody Knox, CPESC, environmental compliance officer with TDOT. He was the agency’s first CPESC registrant and was hired not long after the consent agreement was signed.

Better Plans

In reaching this agreement, TDEC and TDOT officials determined that a more stringent review process was needed for developing erosion and sediment control plans on highway construction projects. Looking for organizations that would document the qualifications of people to prepare these plans, they found CPESC Inc.

“They really liked the fact that the CPESC certificate wasn’t issued just because someone has the proper degree or other credentials,” Knox says. “Applicants also have to pass a written test demonstrating their knowledge of erosion and sediment control practices and regulations.”

As a result, TDEC and TDOT officials met with CPESC Inc. Executive Director David Ward, CPESC, and Ted Sherrod, P.E., CPESC, CPSWQ (Certified Professional in Storm Water Quality), council chair of the CPESC Inc. Executive Committee. At the time, Sherrod was the representative for the CPESC Southeast Region, which includes Tennessee. “We discussed how the CPESC certificate could help them raise the level of professionalism in design and implementation for controlling erosion and sediment on TDOT projects,” he says.

“CPESC Inc. has been very responsive,” says Knox. “They knew that we were addressing the conditions of the consent order, and even before we decided on the CPESC review requirement, they helped TDOT and TDEC understand exactly what we needed to do to improve compliance.”

Better Reviews

The CPESC registrant serves two roles in TDOT’s erosion and sediment control program. One is to conduct preliminary reviews, right-of-way field reviews, and construction field reviews. “Rather than looking at the location of an individual BMP, such as a check dam, they look at the bigger picture and how to phase implementation of the plan so that, for example, all outfalls are properly protected as construction activities proceed throughout the project,” Knox says.

Once plans are finalized to the CPESC reviewer’s satisfaction, that person signs a statement indicating that the BMPs have been found to be “designed so that, if properly implemented, installed, and maintained, they will manage erosion and prevent sediment accumulation in the waters of the state and comply with the terms of the general permit.”

The CPESC certification also plays a key role in another aspect of the TDEC-TDOT consent agreement-the Quality Assurance/Quality Control team. This a group of consultants, independent of the construction project, who review and report on project sites in the field once a month or, if the project is near high-quality waters (such as a trout stream), twice a month. The leader of this team must be an active CPESC or a CPESC-in-Training (a person qualified to take the CPESC exam).

Better Results

The consent agreement required all provisions to be implemented statewide within six months of signing. “At first project designers weren’t very receptive to input from the CPESC registrants,” Knox says. “But, once we got the heads of the design groups to buy into it, things went much smoother.”

Implementation of the agreement also prompted many of the consultants who worked with TDOT to become certified. “The people at CPESC Inc. bent over backward to provide instructors in Tennessee for the review course that helps prepare people to take the exam and to quickly process the paperwork required for taking the exam,” he adds.

Because of the long lead-time between design of an erosion control plan and start of construction, no TDOT projects were delayed because of the CPESC requirement, Knox reports.

“Awareness of the need to plan for all proper erosion and sediment control practices by our TDOT and consulting designers has really increased,” he says. “For example, now they’re looking farther ahead and including measures in the plans, like indicating where haul roads need to go, that they didn’t do in the past.”

Meanwhile, the number of sediment discharges reported by TDOT is about the same as before. “However, the amount of sediment getting into streams has been substantially minimized,” Knox explains. “As a result of the CPESC review process, we’re providing much better erosion and sediment control plans. But we still need to improve the way these plans are implemented in the field.” 
About the Author

Greg Northcutt

Greg Northcutt writes frequently on construction and business issues.