The plastic mesh was used in restoring the wetlands and later deemed unfit for use in the rehab.
The Corps of Engineers wetlands rehabilitation project in Parkville, MO. A plastic mesh was used in restoring the wetlands and later deemed unfit for use in the rehab. (Chase Castor/The Beacon)

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The plastic netting covering Parkville’s wetlands project will be gone by spring after city officials approved a $29,140 donation to remove the potentially hazardous material on the contractor’s dime. 

The netting is the most visible of several problems with the wetland restoration project in Platte Landing Park that the city of Parkville and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers embarked upon in 2017. 

The Board of Aldermen last month accepted a donation from two firms that designed the project — Affinis Corp. and Vireo —  to pay for the netting’s removal. BKM Construction LLC, the Leavenworth, Kansas, contractor tasked with making the project design a reality, will be responsible for the work.

“By signing this (donation) agreement, they are not admitting to any fault or liability,” said Alysen Abel, Parkville’s public works director. “This is a good-faith effort for the design team to work directly with the city and the Corps of Engineers to expedite the removal of the matting.”

The removal plans mark a victory for local environmental advocates, including the Burroughs Audubon Society of Greater Kansas City. Members of the society were outspoken about the problems the non-biodegradable netting presented to wildlife the wetlands were designed to attract. 

While it is common to install erosion control blankets on projects like the wetlands, these are generally made with biodegradable materials, such as coconut fiber. The netting installed by the contractor in Parkville was a turf reinforcement mat, which acts as a permanent fixture in the environment. 

“This matting is permanent, and has been identified as a nuisance,” Abel said. “The city and Corps of Engineers have discussed several ways of removing this matting over the past few months. It was determined that the most cost-effective way to remove the mat is to remove it during the dormant season.”

During winter, the native plug plants installed by contractors have gone dormant, presenting an opportunity to remove the netting without harming them. The window for action is closing quickly; the removal must be completed by March 1, when the natives are expected to begin sprouting again. 

“There will be a small percentage of plant damage with removal now, but it will be greater later if it isn’t done during the dormancy period,” Abel said.

The agreement came after managers from Affinis and BKM met Jan. 24 at the site of the wetlands project to discuss removing the netting. According to the terms of the contract approved by the aldermen, removal will begin immediately. Of the total donation, 50% will be given to the city immediately, and the remainder will be given after the removal is complete.

“I’d love to say ‘bravo,’ it’s great to see some meaningful progress on this, moving forward with restoring the wetlands,” said 1st Ward Alderman Philip Wassmer. “That’s great news.”

The city of Parkville’s purchasing policy generally requires sealed bids for projects above $20,000, but because the project is still under a maintenance period, only BKM has the right to perform the work. Hiring another contractor could invalidate the warranty.  

Abel acknowledged that there is still work to be done to rectify other issues with the project, including removing invasive plants and ensuring the wetlands actually hold water. She said solutions to those problems will be presented to aldermen as they are identified.

There has been ongoing debate between the city and the Corps of Engineers over which party should pay for future adjustments. A Corps of Engineers representative told The Beacon in January that the Corps was unsure whether Parkville was willing to invest more in the project. 

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Emily Wolf was a local government accountability reporter with a focus on telling meaningful stories through data at The Kansas City Beacon. She was a Report for America corps member.