Candidate Conservation Agreement: Right of way preservation creates viable habitat for butterflies

By Alison Harwood, Director of Natural Resources, WSB

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is investigating threats to the monarch butterfly. The monarch is being considered to join the list of species registered under the Endangered Species Act. The listing decision is expected to occur in December. If listed, projects and activities that involve impacts to the monarch or their habitat could face delays as a result of required USFWS consultation. To avoid potential delays, transportation and energy groups are enrolling in the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) program. The CCAA allows transportation and energy groups nationwide to gain protections for certain covered activities by implementing conservation measures to sustain a viable habitat for monarchs, within the right of way on energy and transportation lands. Enrolling in the program can help these groups avoid costly project delays.

Protecting our environment allows us to work with nature, not against it.

The monarch butterfly is a beautiful sight, with its brilliant red-orange wings, black veined exterior and white spotting. However, this attractive pollinator is not something to take for granted. The monarch is a vital species in our planet’s ecosystem and contributes to the environment through pollination and as an important food source for birds, small animals and other insects.

Preserving and monitoring butterfly habitat within right of way segments is a top priority for the CCAA and affiliated members. In Minnesota, any stretch of right of way along the road is commonly identified as habitat; except for urban areas that contain no vegetation. This habitat supports milkweed and a variety of blooming nectar plants that monarchs regularly frequent. Before forming a chrysalis, the monarch caterpillar relies on milkweed as its primary food source. Without it, the larva cannot develop into a butterfly.

Monarch habitats are threatened by activities such as mowing, spraying, or grading. If listed and without proper permitting, any damage to monarch habitat as a result of these activities is in direct violation of the Endangered Species Act. Entities in violation of the Endangered Species Act may be fined and unable to continue their project work until proper permitting has been processed and approved.

Morrison County puts conservation measures in place.

WSB recognizes the importance of maintaining, improving and creating a viable habitat. Our Natural Resources team recently partnered with the Morrison County Highway Department to help them determine which segments of right of way require conservation measures. As part of the conservation study, our environmental scientists will calculate and analyze the total acreage of right of way and provide recommendations on conservation best practices (as indicated per the CCAA) such as guidelines for mowing. The CCAA requires each County transportation group to implement conservation measures on five percent of the total right of way area. An approved list of management practices is covered in the agreement for communities to review.

The CCAA program is open for enrollment until the effective listing date (anticipated as December 2021 or January 2022). Members can apply for the program and receive coverage before the ruling is made. Interested entities can only join the CCAA prior to the listing date.

By maintaining, improving and creating a safe habitat, monarchs will have the environment they need to survive and thrive for generations to come.

To learn more about the CCAA and how to enroll, visit their website.

MnDNR expected to grant $4 million to improve access to parks, lakes, rivers & trails

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is accepting grant applications for local roadway improvement projects that benefit outdoor recreation and open spaces. The DNR has allocated $4 million to the State Park Road Account Program to improve both public and private access to parks, trails, lakes and rivers. 

A few key things to know about this grant program:

  • Townships, cities and county governments can apply
  • Focused on enhancing county roadway access to state parks, trails, wilderness areas and recreation facilities
  • Consideration is also given to projects that address safety issues to these facilities
  • Local cost sharing and amount of traffic directly related to the site are key selection criteria
  • Roadway construction, right-of-way acquisition and wetland mitigation are eligible activities
  • Applications are due November 1, 2020.

WSB is experienced in assisting, preparing and reviewing project grant applications. In 2019, this program provided $4.8 million in state grants for 10 different projects around the state. This annual program has also funded more than $1 million of campground road improvements for Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. WSB led the roadway design and construction for this project, which is now underway.  

For more information, visit the Minnesota Department of Transportation website or contact Scott Mareck at 320.534.5948 or [email protected].

25 stories for 25 years | Kory Bonnell

On October 5, 2020, WSB will celebrate our 25th year in business. Since 1995, we’ve added new service areas, expanded our reach and served our communities.  Throughout our tenure, our dedicated staff has been a constant.

In honor of our 25th year, we’ll be highlighting 25 stories of the people behind the projects.

Story 8 of 25

Kory Bonnell, Environmental Compliance Specialist | Joined WSB in 2016

We believe in building what’s next in infrastructure – how do you live that value in your work?

Being bold allows us to continue to grow and bring new ideas to our clients. By continuing to encourage our staff to be creative, bring different solutions to the table and because WSB encourages a no-fear mentality, we are reframing the status quo and the answers of “this is what has always been done.” By harnessing the knowledge of our incredible team, we will continue to be at the forefront of our industry and valued by our clients because we are going to be bringing solutions to the table in a completely different delivery approach.

What WSB value do you connect most with? (Bold, Visionary, Authentic, Passionate, Optimistic)

I would have to say bold. I think that this has been one of the best visions to come out of WSB in recent years. When you hear the word “bold” it is not always met with a welcomed gesture. To be bold is to push the limits, to force yourself to be uncomfortable. To be bold is to take ownership and accountability. Thinking about different ways to do things and not being fearful of trying something new, putting yourself or your business in a new arena; if it doesn’t work out, you forge ahead until the next idea does. Here at WSB, we are constantly looking for how we can better develop our staff to meet the needs of our clients. Being bold allows us to work with clients to develop out-of-the-box solutions that demand creativity and passion.

What is one thing you want to tell the future leaders of WSB?

With the growth trajectory and the way the organization is set up, our staff now has unlimited opportunities for leadership in this organization. Being committed to WSB will allow us to continue to push the limits, think outside of the box, and recognize the work put in along the way. It’s exciting to think that in 25 years, we all could have the opportunity to be an active participant in developing what our business will look like in the future.

Why do our clients continue to work with us?

Our clients work with us because we develop deep relationships with our clients based on their needs. They know that we are here to support them and that they can trust us to provide a solution-based approach. Deep relationships, delivering an excellent work product and offering some of the best minds in the industry is what keeps our clients coming back. They understand that they are our top priority.

25 stories for 25 years | Jeff Feulner

On October 5, 2020, WSB will celebrate our 25th year in business. Since 1995, we’ve added new service areas, expanded our reach and served our communities.  Throughout our tenure, our dedicated staff has been a constant.

In honor of our 25th year, we’ll be highlighting 25 stories of the people behind the projects.

Story 7 of 25

Jeff Feulner, Sr. Landscape Architect | Joined WSB in 2015

What do you think is special about celebrating 25 years as a company? 

Twenty-five years is a major milestone for any organization but being able to maintain a constant presence and continuing to grow within a competitive industry is truly impressive. To me, what is more significant than the number of years, is all the accomplishments that WSB has achieved during that time.  Starting small and growing to become an industry leader with over 500 employees, while not losing focus of the original values and culture, is remarkable.  While 25 years is an impressive milestone, I feel that the best is yet to come as we continue to innovate, explore new opportunities and expand our service areas.

In what ways have you been able to grow professionally at WSB?

One of the reasons I came to WSB was to work on different types of projects, expand my knowledge base and become more well-rounded as a landscape architect. I felt like I was getting one-dimensional in my previous position and knew that WSB could offer the variety of challenges that I needed.  WSB has given me the opportunity to work on exciting projects in park and recreation design, natural restoration, transportation, urban design, solar energy and many others.  The variety of projects and wealth of experience found within our organization is amazing and increases my excitement for the profession every day.

What WSB value do you connect most with? (Bold, Visionary, Authentic, Passionate, Optimistic)

While I feel that I connect with all WSB’s core values, the one that rises to the top for me is optimistic.  I know that any project or task has an effective solution, and I enjoy working collaboratively with everyone at WSB to put those answers together.   I’m positive that we can help our clients each and every day, and I look forward to those opportunities and challenges.

Why do our clients continue to work with us?

In simplest terms, I believe our clients choose to work with us because we get “it” done.  Every client has a different “it” that they bring to us, but I think they recognize that WSB has the skills, knowledge, experience and curiosity to consistently deliver creative results.  As we continue to perform with positive outcomes, our clients know that they can trust WSB to help them in any capacity.

WSB Achieves Complete Nitrate Removal in Drinking Water with Biological Filtration

Many groundwater sources in the United States have elevated levels of nitrate, which can lead to public drinking water suppliers exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) limit of 10 mg/L. Regularly consuming water with nitrate concentrations above the MCL can reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood; resulting in shortness of breath and possibly fatality in humans. Conventional approaches to treating nitrate include ion exchange or reverse osmosis, both which are effective but generate large quantities of brine salts leading to multiple environmental concerns.

WSB has successfully removed nitrate from the groundwater without generating harmful residuals using biological filtration. Biological filtration removes nitrate through denitrification. Denitrification is the process by which nitrate is removed from the source water by converting it to non-toxic nitrogen gas (78 percent of the air we breathe is comprised of nitrogen). Biological filtration employs conventional filters to clean the source water. However, the filters are populated with naturally occurring microbes that enable the biological conversion of nitrate. Both the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the EPA consider biological denitrification to be an efficient and effective method for treating nitrate in public drinking water supplies, additionally, it significantly reduces the amount of chemicals used and generate significantly fewer residuals. An external carbon source may need to be dosed to promote microbial growth in the filters depending on the type of water to be treated (groundwater or surface water).

Although biological denitrification has been used in wastewater treatment for decades, it has only been effectively used in the United Stated for drinking water treatment in recent years. Therefore, MDH requires a pilot study to be completed prior to implementing this treatment process full-scale. WSB recently completed a biological filtration pilot study for the City of Hastings, Minnesota.  Hastings’ water supply is provided by groundwater wells that are open to the Jordan Sandstone Aquifer. The Jordan Aquifer is a shallow and, sometimes vulnerable, aquifer that commonly produces groundwater with significant levels of nitrate. Hasting’s wells produce water nitrate concentrations that range from 6 to 9 mg/L. The city currently has an existing ion exchange water treatment plant that removes the majority of the nitrate before it enters the distribution system. The figure above shows the nitrate removal results obtained during the pilot study. The average influent nitrate concentration during the 12-week pilot study was 6.7 mg/L. WSB’s biological filtration pilot plant consistently reduced the influent nitrate concentrations in Hastings’ well water to below 1.0 mg/L. Several samples had non-detectable levels of nitrate which demonstrated the pilot plant’s capability to remove all nitrate from the City’s raw water. Nitrate removal did not occur immediately as the microbes required a couple of weeks to populate the filters in order to denitrify the water. These microbes are not harmful to humans as they are inactivated using disinfection prior to pumping the water to the distribution system. Nitrite is formed as an intermediary step between nitrate and nitrogen gas. Nitrite causes similar health effects than nitrate, but it is more toxic as its MCL is only 1.0 mg/L. Effluent nitrite concentrations were maintained at zero or near zero during the pilot study.

If your community’s source water has elevated nitrate levels, WSB’s water treatment engineers can work with you to develop a comprehensive pilot protocol, collaborate with state agencies, and conduct a pilot study using WSB’s pilot plant to help you determine if biological filtration can treat most or all of the nitrate in your raw water without generating harmful residuals. For more information, please contact WSB.

Your MS4 Permit Re-issuance To-Do List

By Meghan Litsey, Director of Environmental Compliance, WSB

The countdown to the release of the updated MS4 Permit has begun. The current MS4 Permit expired on July 31, 2018 and the MPCA is tentatively planning to reissue the updated Permit before the end of this year.

As a new permit approaches, take a few minutes to reflect on the progress you’ve made towards meeting your measurable goals over the last five years. We’ve developed procedures, adopted ordinances, formed partnerships, inspected and eliminated illicit discharges, monitored construction sites, and assessed our ponds…and now it is time to start thinking about the next permit cycle.

Soon we will work through the Part II application that outlines how our MS4 programs will come into compliance with the updated MS4 Permit requirements. Before the new MS4 Permit is released, there are some important to-dos to help you get organized before the permit arrives.

Here’s what you can do now:

  1. Review and update your storm sewer system map. Take a close look at storm sewer, pond, outfall, and structural stormwater BMP locations and ownership information and complete updates, as needed.
  2. Dust off ordinances, written procedures, enforcement response procedures, form templates, and save them in a convenient location – they’ll come in hand for the Part II application.
  3. Complete a mock audit. By understanding the current state of your program compared to the existing requirements, you’ll be ready to fill in the blanks in the Part II application with ease. As a bonus, this activity will also help you start preparing for the 2020 MS4 Annual Report; a bit of preparation this fall will save hours of agony in June.
  4. Organize your files and recordkeeping mechanisms. Consider creating a shared drive so everyone on your team can help track and contribute to MS4 activities. If your current set-up isn’t working, now is the time to find a system that works for easy tracking for the next permit cycle.
  5. Continue the routine upkeep of your MS4 program to keep operations running smoothly, including staff training, erosion control inspections and enforcement, public education efforts, annual meeting, etc. The permit may be expired, but we must continue to implement our programs and ultimately manage our stormwater conveyance systems.   

Start checking things off your list, and in no time at all, you’ll be ready to take-on whatever the new MS4 Permit has in store.

Meghan Litsey is director of our Environmental Compliance team and has over eight years of experience. She specializes in providing environmental compliance services in construction site permitting, SWPPP design and inspection, and MS4 program development. 

[email protected] | 763.287.7155

25 stories for 25 years | Shibani Bisson

On October 5, 2020, WSB will celebrate our 25th year in business. Since 1995, we’ve added new service areas, expanded our reach and served our communities.  Throughout our tenure, our dedicated staff has been a constant.

In honor of our 25th year, we’ll be highlighting 25 stories of the people behind the projects.

Story 6 of 25

Shibani Bisson, Municipal Sr. Project Manager | Joined WSB in 2000

What do you think is special about celebrating 25 years as a company?

I have been with WSB for 20 years and throughout those 20 years, there has been a consistent message of caring for our staff, a culture of support and the notion that we are all in this together. Given the uncertainty in our world right now, it’s because of these values and positive culture that I am certain that WSB’s values will continue to stay true beyond 25 years. The visionary ideals of our current and future leaders make celebrating 25 years very special and I am confident that we will continue to grow successfully because of this.

What WSB value do you connect most with? (Bold, Visionary, Authentic, Passionate, Optimistic)

I think WSB’s culture and way of doing business has always been authentic. It’s been a constant and has set us apart. Recognizing each of our staff’s strengths, having an open-door policy, supporting career paths and encouraging people to be themselves creates a positive and rewarding work culture.

Why do our clients continue to work with us?

I think our clients continue to work with us because they recognize we are committed to building relationships and trust while doing what is in their best interest. Integrity is very important to me and a core value that’s been instilled at WSB. I think acting with integrity contributes to retaining our clients.

Using sonar technology to manage invasive species

By Tony Havranek, Sr. Ecologist, WSB

Implementing the Modified Unified Technique on Hanson Lake.

Asian carp are some of the newest invaders of our lakes, rivers and streams. Asian carp is a term used collectively to describe bighead carp, black carp, grass carp and silver carp. Fast growing and invasive, these specific fish are causing problems along the Mississippi River and surrounding bodies of water.

Asian carp are labeled as invasive because of their effect on ecosystems, water quality and native fish populations. Like the Common carp, Asian carp are highly invasive and have disrupted our food web.  In 2019, Hanson Lake #3 Homeowners Association (HOA), located in Nebraska, commissioned the WSB natural resources team to address the growing Asian carp population in the lake. The lake’s recreation had taken a hit because of the carp’s ability to fly out of the water, disrupting boaters and swimmers.

Hanson Lake is unique. In the past, commercial fishing crews had identified high populations of Asian carp, but effectively trapping and netting the fish was challenging due to obstructions at the bottom of the lake. These obstructions were preventing the nets from capturing the fish.

With many non-nettable locations located throughout Hanson Lake, we needed to find a solution that would drive the invasive carp into areas where we could capture and extract them.  A few years ago, I read about a new harvesting technique developed in China called the modified unified technique. Using this technique, fish are herded into a concentrated area where they can be easily netted and harvested. The technique requires the use of underwater speakers and block nets.

In collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), we decided to implement the Modified Unified Technique on Hanson Lake. We connected underwater speakers to amplifiers and played a pattern of noises including ice cracking, feedback, human voices, gunshots and hammering. The pattern of noises was played on repeat to begin herding the fish into the waiting nets. Throughout several days, the sound waves drove the fish into the nettable areas of the lake where seine nets were placed.

Once the harvest was complete, over 26,000 pounds of rough fish were removed from Hanson Lake. Comparatively in 2018, 8,200 pounds of fish were removed from the lake. Rough estimates indicate that over 30 percent of the lake’s rough fish were removed during this operation which will significantly improve recreation and water quality in the area.

What’s so bad about Asian carp?

Aquatic Invasive Species are behind some of the most drastic changes to freshwater systems in the world today. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Asian carp were first brought to the United States for use in aquaculture ponds. These fish have now invaded the Mississippi River that connects to many bodies of water throughout the nation. Natural Resources organizations and groups are fearful that Asian carp will invade the Great Lakes which would have a severe impact on recreational and commercial fisheries.  Many cities, counties and watersheds are taking proactive steps to mitigate the invasive species to protect and preserve the ecology and water quality throughout the nation.

Read our full Hanson Lake Report here.

Mitigating against catastrophe


Underground pipeline infrastructure is expansive and vulnerable to natural disasters, extreme weather conditions and impairment from human activities. When systems fail, they can trigger catastrophic damage and global headlines. In 2018, extreme weather incidents cost the United States nearly $91 billion. Earthquakes, landslides, tornadoes and hurricanes have a huge impact on our above-ground infrastructure but can also significantly affect our less visible underground infrastructure.

To prepare for the fallout caused by extreme weather events, many private and public organizations are taking a proactive approach to managing their geohazard risk.


Private utilities who operate interstate pipelines are held to requirements enforced by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). These requirements provide guidance on how to manage operations when faced with extreme weather or natural disasters. Beginning in July 2020, PHMSA’s updated requirements will mandate the consistent monitoring of all pipeline systems throughout the United States. While regulations existed previously, the integrity management systems associated with pipeline infrastructure have been evolving in response to extreme weather.

To comply with the PHMSA’s requirements, many private oil and gas companies are developing and updating integrity management systems, a risk-based approach to improving pipeline safety and operations.


Instead of creating integrity management systems, public organizations create resiliency plans. These plans improve public safety, allow for more precise project scoping and cost estimating and provide more accurate forecasting for maintenance budgets. Additionally, resiliency plans help communities plan their budgets proactively.


Traditionally, many companies and organizations have resorted to walking the entire pipeline system to measure where risk may occur in the event of a natural disaster or extreme weather event. This process is time-consuming and often not fast enough in response to a crisis or when quick decisions must be made.

Our team of geohazard experts knew there had to be a better way to assess geohazard risk. Working closely with both public and private clients, we developed a predictive tool that allows organizations to monitor their pipeline infrastructure virtually. This GIS-based geohazard model informs risk-based decision-making tools, such as risk matrices, that can be referenced to ensure PHMSA compliance or inform resiliency planning. Using the model, areas that may have been impacted by an extreme weather event can be monitored with the click of a button and action steps can be taken immediately to continue safe operations of the pipeline network.


With changing severe weather patterns around the country, proactive management is becoming an increasingly important part of pipeline operations. Since the 1950s, precipitation occurring during heavy downpours has increased by 37% in the Midwest. These events increase the probability of landslides, flooding, and a host of other geohazards that may negatively impact pipeline integrity.

Identifying locations vulnerable to these types of events allow mitigation activities that are less expensive than addressing them after an event has occurred, making geohazard assessments a sound risk and financial management tool.


Since it’s easier to stop a potential leak or release before it happens, geohazard predictive modeling reduces the risk of events. The predictive modeling program uses a simple formula (Risk = Probability x Consequence) and applies it to geohazards.

For example, a successful geohazard program will predict locations susceptible to landslides after heavy downpours by determining the factors most likely to cause failures across each location. These risk factors can include slope angle, the shape of the slope and depth to bedrock. The output of this modeling process is a set of factors that rank slopes by degrees of failure.

Q & A – Mike Rief

Mike Rief is our Senior Vice President of Construction Services. He plays a critical role on our construction team by driving projects forward through his leadership. In this Q&A, Mike reflects on his experiences at WSB and shares his vision for the future.

Q: You’ve been with WSB for almost 15 years. What aspects of WSB make you excited about work?

I really enjoy the people I work with not only in the Construction Services Division, but throughout WSB. We have a lot of talented, motivated and passionate people and it’s fun to draw from their excitement and energy in our daily work, pursuit of work and development of plans and projects.

Q: So far during your time at WSB, what has been the most memorable moment?

There have been many memorable moments during my time, but a couple that stand out are the collapse and reconstruction of the St. Anthony Falls 35W Bridge. That project presented a lot of firsts for WSB. We were brought in to provide two to four staff for Contractor Quality Assurance. Because of our efforts, we eventually had more than 50 staff providing field support in the construction of the $234M project. We had a great team who delivered the contract administration, inspection, testing and documentation. We worked 24/7 for nine months through one of Minnesota’s coldest winters to successfully deliver the project. The other memorable moment, still very special to me, is winning the 2012 TH 90 Dresbach Bridge and Interchange Contract Administration and Oversight. This project was a significant milestone for our firm.

Q: How are our clients involved throughout the construction process?

Involvement varies significantly depending on the client. Every project is unique, and we take that into consideration. We welcome client involvement and engagement as part of our process. We work to find a balance with the client to ensure their needs are met and that they are satisfied with the administration of the project, the final product and resident perception.

Q: Our culture drives our curiosity. How does curiosity drive the construction team?

The people who are most successful in the construction industry are problem solvers by nature. That creates a certain level of curiosity in the way we perform our jobs. We ask questions and are not afraid to ask why and provide recommendations on better ways to address a challenge. It’s our staff’s curiosity that drives our innovation and improvements. We are constantly pursuing improvements to our process and the way we work and this has been the foundation of many enhancements throughout WSB.

Q: How do you think WSB stays innovative and inspired in times of uncertainty?

I think in some cases, it’s the uncertainty that creates the inspiration and innovation. Our staff is good at finding opportunities to expand services or develop new technologies. If you look back to the Great Recession, our firm grew by adding new services and exploring new markets. We’ve faced uncertainty recently when navigating the challenges surrounding COVID-19, but I’ve admired the ways our staff are identifying new ways to perform their work, deliver projects and stay engaged.

Q: What makes our construction services offerings unique?

We offer a broad range of services that complement each other. We also have become specialized in the areas of Contract Administration, Surveys, Pipeline, Environmental Compliance, Project Controls, Geotechnical, Materials, Pavements and Geohazards. All of these service areas work together by sharing knowledge, resources and lessons learned. We have strong relationships with all divisions in WSB and work collectively to deliver projects.

Q: How do you think our construction services are set up for future success?

We have become very competitive over and continue to meet the needs of our clients. We are making significant investments in our staff, training and technology. We are investing in other service offerings, new markets and new industries. Continuing to evolve and explore new markets both geographically and from a service offering perspective will help position us for continued success in the future.

Q: What are you most excited for in 2020?

2020 didn’t start the way we had hoped. The COVID-19 situation has created some uncertainty for everyone in all industries. Moving forward, I’m most excited for our season to progress and our staff to get out on projects. How we do work in the future will look different to us and it’s exciting that we are able to help define what that will look like.

Q: Inspiration is paramount to our work at WSB. What inspires you?

I draw inspiration from a lot of different areas. First, I tend to be a little competitive so, I enjoy the pursuit for projects. I also draw inspiration from our staff. Seeing our staff experience success, solve a problem or learn something new is a motivator. After 30 years in the industry, I’m still learning and sharing knowledge with others and it is really rewarding to have others do the same with me. Seeing staff, clients and contractor partners get excited about their jobs is something that should inspire all of us.