April 10, 2023

Ecological Restoration of I-69 Mitigation Sites

Lochmueller Group has the largest environmental staff in Indiana, with local and regional expertise. With over 30 environmental professionals statewide, no firm in Indiana is bigger. For over 39 years, our team has been involved in permitting and agency coordination to develop and manage a wide range of mitigation projects from small <1-acre sites to large multi-site plans, such as those used for Sections 1-6 of the I-69 project, totaling thousands of acres.

The I-69 project is a key component to the future economic vitality of southwestern Indiana and will connect an entire region with improved access to jobs, education, and healthcare. Divided into six sections, the 142-mile corridor is scheduled to be completed by 2024; Sections 1 through 5 from Evansville to Martinsville are already open to traffic. Lochmueller’s Environmental Division has assisted INDOT with the development, monitoring, and management of all I-69 mitigation sites from Evansville to Indianapolis, totaling over 70 sites and over 7,000 acres of mitigation.

I-69, Section 4 runs from U.S. 231 near Crane NSWC/NSA to SR 37 south of Bloomington and is approximately 27 miles long and includes the largest and most extensive mitigation plan. Over 4,100 acres of mitigation property were acquired at 38 different sites. These sites provided INDOT the ability to comply with agency ratios for forest preservation and reforestation; wetland preservation and construction; and stream preservation and restoration, while protecting key bat habitats and karst features.

mit•i•ga•tion (noun) – the process by which project proponents apply measures to avoid, minimize, or compensate for the adverse effects and environmental impacts resulting from their projects.

Of the over 4,100 acres of mitigation property, approximately 2,200 acres were acquired through a fee simple purchase. The remaining approximately 1,900 acres were acquired through conservation easements, each of which is a recorded perpetual easement. All sites include long-term monitoring for success prior to a handoff to a pre-determined agency for permanent property management.

con•ser•va•tion ease•ments (noun) – a legal agreement between a landowner and a conservation entity that preserves the natural ecosystems by restricting development and outlining management practices to be followed by property owners.

fee sim•ple pur•chase (noun) – a land purchase that transfers full ownership of the property, including all associated rights, to another party.

Efforts were made to identify mitigation parcels contiguous to other managed lands to enhance large habitat areas. Two large tracts of protected properties were created near the Garrison Chapel Valley (1,291 continuous acres) and Koleen (1,570 contiguous acres). These consist of existing managed lands combined with mitigation properties acquired for I-69. They constitute prime Indiana bat spring staging and fall swarming habitat.

The sheer magnitude of this new terrain interstate project relative to miles of roadway, type of terrain, variety of geologic conditions, and the natural environment and associated habitat caused a new way of thinking for engineering design and environmental commitments in southwest Indiana. Mitigation properties accounted for 2,970 acres of forest preservation, 1,120 acres of reforestation acres (tree plantings), 99 acres of wetlands (much new construction), and 110,707 linear feet of streams.

for•est pre•ser•va•tion (noun) – the completed protection of a forest location from human use or intervention, including restriction of logging and development in a protected forest.

re•for•est•a•tion (noun) – the conversion of previously forested land back to forest.  

wet•lands (nouns) – areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season.

With karst terrain prevalent in the region, the interstate construction impacted both the winter and summer habitat for multiple bat species, including the endangered Indiana bat. That is why cave preservation was paramount. Two priority 1A caves, which are used by over 30,000 Indiana bats and many other species, were protected. Also within Section 4, one priority 2 and one priority 3 cave were protected, and normal air flow was established in a previously closed cave to improve bat habitat. For the entire I-69 project, a total of 221 mist net sites were surveyed. These surveys resulted in the identification of a number of Indiana bat maternity colonies. Sixty-one caves were also surveyed for Indiana bats, leading to the identification of three new Indiana bat hibernacula as a result.

karst (noun) – a type of landscape where the dissolving of the bedrock has created sinkholes, sinking streams, caves, springs, and other characteristic features.

The ecological restoration efforts of Lochmueller Group not only greatly benefit the environment but also facilitated INDOT's overall project development efforts. Our team made sure that the habitat within the right-of-way was fully evaluated and successfully mitigated and restored.

To learn more about our Environmental Services, visit our website.

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