Native fish and streambed in Montana start a new chapter
S&K Environmental, LLC (SKER) has just achieved 95% completion on a reconstruction project at Libby Creek in Montana. This subcontract is performed under the prime contractor, Schellinger Construction of Columbia Falls on a four-mile highway project 12 miles south of Libby for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). S&K Environmental is also the project’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Stream Restoration contractor. There are seven MDT certified Stream Restoration Contractors in Montana and S&K Environmental is the only tribally affiliated company.
Swamp Creek flows north along Highway 2 to its convergence with Libby Creek and then northeast to the Kootenai River. The creek has a significant population of brook trout. The subcontract is to construct 1.98 miles of new channel in a riffle and pool stream morphology according to the principles of Natural Channel Design. The project is divided into five sections covering 3.5 miles of the highway project site.
S&K Environmental is also enhancing 230 yards of historical channel while planting 18,800 trees and shrubs in the stream’s riparian zone. Six hectares (14.8 acres) along the newly constructed channel is being seeded with upland and wetland seed mixtures. The company has constructed 92 meanders, 76 riffles, 8 log jams, 22 grade controls/weir drops, and installed 18,714 square yards of coir erosion control netting.
This project has had a number of challenges that were not anticipated by the MDT. Kevin Thomas, President of S&K Environmental, noted that, “during our excavation, we encountered groundwater and unsuitable materials that greatly impacted our production rates.” Unique techniques and specialized equipment helped move the job towards substantial completion. Finishing the last 161 yards of work will occur when traffic has been moved to the new Primary Traveled Width.
One of the contract conditions was to provide a certified Stream Restoration Specialist to oversee construction, provide quality control and make minor design changes. Of the two dozen people certified in Montana, Bob Fouty, Project Manager, is the only enrolled Tribal member.
The top photo shows the stream being reconstructed and in the photo above, two S&K Environmental employees are performing fish rescue on the old, abandoned channel.
“We called them the fish whisperers,” said Bob. “It also gives an idea what the old channel looked like. The crew rescued and relocated a total of 96 fish.”