As a designer, the best way to avoid communication issues in restoration planting projects is to provide simple, clear instructions for the field inspection engineer. The best-laid-plans are useless if no one is monitoring installation, and this step in the restoration project process is sometimes the weak link. The inspector might be part of your internal staff, but for larger projects, it could be an area division office within a large agency or an inexperienced subcontractor foreman. The way to maintain quality control is to provide as much help as possible without crossing boundaries of contract protocol—a delicate balancing maneuver!
First, introduce yourself to the field inspection engineer by phone, or better yet, in a face-to-face meeting. There is nothing online that can replace a friendly hand shake. Let them know you are available to answer questions and provide technical expertise, especially during conflicts with the contractor. Supply them with a plain-language explanation of the contract specifications, pointing out general issues they may encounter, and tell them special things to note. Provide references to the specification numbering for your instructions. The important thing is to not rewrite the specs!
Instead, reinforce the written specifications and plan sheets as the governing documents by explaining why certain sections in the specs exist, without restating the contract requirements in your own words. Assume the inspector is not familiar with horticulture. For example, the specs may require the contractor to install bare root seedlings that remain viable for a minimum of two years. Your inspection instructions may explain that bare root seedlings have root systems that will dry out and die if exposed to open air longer than fifteen minutes. Since the time of planting is during the dormant season when the seedlings have no leaves, making sure the roots appear moist is especially important. It is also important to look for the first new leaves sprouting the following spring. If the inspector doesn’t see any green by June, the plants are not viable. This is obvious to an experienced wetland restoration expert, but may be a revelation to the field inspection engineer.
By providing instructions and more details for the inspector, you may motivate them to actually read the specifications from start to finish before installation begins! Here are some important points to include.
• If the inspector has any questions regarding the contract documents, or if they want additional technical help from you during official inspections, offer your contact information and welcome their interaction with you and your office.
• Explain the typical order of operations for planting and seeding a disturbed stream buffer.
• Explain you want a few days’ notice before the day of plant installation occurs, so you can be present.
• Restate the required dormant planting season dates in the specs.
• Explain what to look for when examining plant material. Offer your contact information if the inspector is uncomfortable with the look of the plants delivered to the construction site.
• Emphasize the importance of soil conditions when planting. Frozen soil or soil packed with asphalt construction debris is not acceptable.
• Remind the inspector the written contract specifications always govern during conflicts, and let them know how important consistent enforcement is to quality work.
• Explain that tree seedlings cannot be located under overhead power lines or within the roadside safety clear zone.
• Encourage the inspector to note what species are being planted on dry fill slopes disturbed by construction. Riparian and wetland pioneer species that can handle more sun and drought are needed in these areas. Offer your contact information if the inspector wants help adjusting the plant layout.
• Remind the inspector that seedlings should not be planted between double silt fence rows used for erosion control, since mechanical removal of the silt fence later will damage the plants.
• Remind the inspector to check the depth of planting to ensure the seedling root crowns are not too deep or too far above the ground plane.
• Explain that new seedlings require rigid protective tubes to prevent animal grazing.
• Offer your contact information in case the contractor proposed substitutes for the species required on the plan sheets, and ask the inspector to avoid in-the-field deals that conflict with the requirements.
• Tell the contractor to look for good soil contact for seed mixes.
• Explain that the clean wheat straw mulch sprinkled over newly-seeded areas must be thin enough to allow some sunlight to penetrate, but thick enough to hold moisture and shade new seedlings.
• Note the section in the specifications that determines what amount of coverage is required to constitute good germination of seeded areas.
• Remind the inspector the contractor must provide adequate moisture for newly planted sites and must hand-weed invasive plant volunteers.
• Explain the rules-of-thumb for determining if installed plants are viable. Typically, if over 50% of the leaf-bearing portion of an installed plant is dead, then the plant is not viable, cannot recover, and can be considered essentially dead.
After your contract documents are published for bid, your wetland stream restoration design work continues. Communication and a good relationship with the field inspection engineers elevates the quality of the construction work and improves the success rate of your restoration projects.
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