Perspectives Online

Alumnus contributes expertise to improve campus, state environment

Darrell Westmoreland (by Rocky Branch Creek) works to restore streams without disrupting a site.
Photo by Art Latham

Last December, on a tree-lined terrace above Rocky Branch Creek on N.C. State University's campus, two men monitored the progress of several groups of trainees and their instructors below.

Darrell Westmoreland, stream restoration and wetlands mitigation expert, was on the job.

He and Dr. Greg Jennings, Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) professor at N.C. State, watched a multi-ton North State Environmental Inc. (NSE) trackhoe carefully repair part of the Rocky Branch stream restoration project damaged by last June's Tropical Storm Alberto.

Westmoreland, a 1991 BAE graduate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, co-owns NSE. Jennings, a licensed engineer and water quality specialist who leads "River Course" classes for BAE's Stream Restoration Program, also heads North Carolina Cooperative Extension's Watershed Education Network.

The heavy equipment operator they observed exhibited a delicate touch on this environmentally sensitive job, no problem for carefully hired and specially trained NSE operators. Westmoreland's employees are noted for their ability to handle 30-ton tracked excavators or bulldozers in mid-channel, positioning rocks, logs and dirt to create natural-looking streams and banks without disrupting a site.

Above is a training group at Rocky Branch.
Photo by Art Latham
Water quality engineers appreciate NSE operators' finesse. "Darrell's operators are all skilled, patient experts, who are not afraid to get out of their equipment and use their hands and feet to make sure things are built properly. They have a set of chest waders in every cab," says Dan Clinton, a 1997 BAE alumnus, former Rocky Branch design team member and River Course instructor, and now a Town of Cary storm water engineer.

North Carolina's streams are familiar habitats to Westmoreland.

With his wife, Stephanie, he founded the Winston-Salem-based NSE in 1994 to repair and restore waterways to their natural state through specialized channel design and installation services. Stephanie is NSE president; Darrell, project manager and vice-president. He handles field operations, stream restoration and wetlands mitigation, job estimating, equipment scheduling, and maintenance and field personnel management.

Despite the responsibilities and busy schedule, the company provides a dream job to Westmoreland, an outdoorsman who likes to fish any stream he has restored to make sure it supports aquatic life.

Westmoreland is noted not only for his efforts to preserve our environment, but also for his dedication to N.C. State.

The Westmorelands have provided at least $20,000 worth of in-kind donations to the Stream Restoration Program and other College water-quality efforts, Jennings says. They've been involved with five training workshop-related projects in Raleigh, Brevard and Purlear, near North Wilkesboro.

Workshop receipts supported the Rocky Branch restoration work during SRP's three-day certification training as part of a hands-on training program. Instructors included Westmoreland, Jennings, Clinton and N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Ecosystem Enhancement Program staff.

During training, 55 construction contractors, consulting engineers, regulatory agency employees and others visited a multi-faceted real-time water flow demonstration area that NSE had constructed earlier at N.C. State's Lake Wheeler Road Field Labs. NSE also constructed storm-water research ponds on Centennial Campus for N.C. State's water quality group, headed by Extension specialist Dr. Jean Spooner, also of BAE, who directs the College's Soil and Water Environmental Technology Center.

"The Lake Wheeler area is unique," Clinton says. "No other place in the country has a full-scale outdoor stream construction demonstration project for educational purposes, and Darrell helped build it."

At Rocky Branch, class participants learned specific techniques and erosion control methods applicable to this type of construction. For instance, students spent 45-minute field rotations observing Westmoreland's red-T-shirted workers use heavy equipment to install root wads and boulders in an Alberto-damaged stream bank. A group of his workers also installed a brush mattress, while others seeded and planted the stream bank with native riparian vegetation for bank stabilization.

Now in its 12th year of business, NSE was honored by Equipment World Magazine as 2006 NSE national Contractor of the Year. The same year, the nonprofit Soil and Water Conservation Society honored the company for outstanding efforts and achievements toward the society's goals of "fostering the science and art of natural resource conservation."

As evidenced during the December N.C. State restoration job, Westmoreland's on-the-job streamside attention to detail pays dividends. "The Rocky Branch work was well done," he says. "The rock and log structures and the channel held up, despite a major precipitation event after we finished the job."

- Art Latham