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July 25, 2002

AGC teams with WSDOT for environment’s sake

  • Training program has educated nearly 2,000 in erosion control
  • By DAVID HYMEL
    AGC of Washington Education Foundation

     Hymel
    Hymel

    General contractors face increasingly complex rules and regulations designed to keep construction site stormwater discharges clean, but how do they keep up with all the new regulations and requirements?

    Environmental education reduces erosion-related expenditures and exposure to environmental liability and keeps contractors informed of their environmental responsibilities on the jobsite. The Associated General Contractors of Washington Education Foundation has found that partnering with state and local regulatory agencies is a good way to provide this needed education.

    Program history

    Erosion issues dominate the environmental landscape in Washington state, where salmon and other species have been listed as endangered or threatened in virtually every major watershed.

    To improve compliance with water quality laws during construction, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has required contractors to participate in erosion control training since 1997. Contractors must have certified erosion control leads on staff to be eligible to work on WSDOT projects. Certification as an erosion control lead is granted for a three-year period after completion of a two-day course.

    field trip
    Photo courtesy of AGC of Washington Education Foundation
    Scott Carey, WSDOT Environmental Affairs Office, leads soil erosion trainees on a field trip to a state highway construction site near Tacoma.

    In its 2001 Stormwater Manual for Western Washington, the state Department of Ecology issued further restrictions, requiring erosion and spill control lead certification for work on most general construction projects in Western Washington.

    These new restrictions, coupled with the recent addition of several species of salmon to the endangered and threatened species list in Washington, triggered a dramatic increase in demand for erosion control training. To meet this demand, the WSDOT Environmental Affairs Office entered into a partnership agreement with the Education Foundation in June 2000.

    The foundation worked with WSDOT’s curriculum to deliver a statewide training program to contractors and staff from federal and state agencies, as well as county and local jurisdictions. The erosion control training program offered by the foundation is recognized by Ecology’s Stormwater Manual as meeting the erosion and spill control lead certification requirements.

    With this partnership, the foundation assumed a leadership role in construction site environmental training within the industry. According to Scott Carey, WSDOT’s statewide erosion control coordinator, “The Education Foundation’s training is largely responsible for the steady improvement we’re seeing in the quality of contractors’ erosion control work.”

    Initially, an ambitious, statewide schedule was planned: 18 training events for 600 students in 10 months (September 2000 to June 2001). However, due to increased interest and demand, the foundation completed twice the number of events intended, including 18 custom classes requested by cities, counties and organizations.

    By the end of the pilot program year, nearly double the anticipated number of students received certification as erosion control leads. From September 2000 to June 2002, the foundation has certified more than 1,950 erosion control leads in 50 training classes statewide.

    It soon became apparent that the need for environmental training had grown beyond soil erosion control.



    "The Education Foundation’s training is largely responsible for the steady improvement we’re seeing in the quality of contractors’ erosion control work."

    -- Scott Carey,

    WSDOT


    The Stormwater Manual for Western Washington required submission of written stormwater pollution prevention plans, but until recently there was no formal training available to general contractors on how to write, update or maintain a quality erosion and sediment control plan. In addition, contractors in Western Washington are facing more restrictions working open soil during wet winter weather — unless they have a plan to adequately treat turbid construction stormwater before it leaves the site.

    To address these situations, the foundation added three courses to its environmental lineup: Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans for Construction Sites; Construction Site Stormwater Treatment; and Erosion Control Design Course.

    Challenges and opportunities

    Environmental training has become a primary component of that education and training mission. A small foundation staff is able to maintain its extensive list of construction education training only by entering into a variety of partnerships and soliciting support from the construction industry. The environmental program of the foundation sustains itself through tuition from the classes it offers and by creative support from its sponsors, including:

    • The Port of Seattle, a leader in public works environmental protection (www.portseattle.org)

    • Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties, a model construction trade association that developed “Built Green,” a program that educates builders and consumers about environmentally-friendly building techniques (www.mba-ks.com)

    • SI Geosolutions (Chattanooga, Tenn.), a leader in providing advanced construction materials for soil stabilization and erosion control and nationwide stormwater management training seminars (www.fixsoil.com)

    Providing these services presents the foundation with the opportunity to develop a leadership role in Washington’s construction industry for environmental training. Delivering these programs has raised environmental awareness of the construction community and has made a significant contribution towards preserving the natural resources of this region.


    David Hymel is the environmental programs manager at the AGC of Washington Education Foundation. He leads the Environmental Division, providing construction site environmental technical and management training to the construction industry. He can be reached at (206) 284-4500. This article was previously published in the April 2002 Constructor, the construction management magazine by the AGC of America.



     

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