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Columbia Gas of Kentucky to launch pollinator program

Feb 13, 2018

Columbia Gas of Kentucky is rolling out a pollinator pilot program aimed at transforming sections of its utility rights of way (ROW) into special habitats for bees and butterflies beginning in March.

The company is partnering with Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and the Masterson Station Park board of directors, Kentucky American Water, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc. and the University of Kentucky to convert some of its largest and most visible ROW by removing existing vegetation and planting a specialized seed mixture that will grow plants like milkweed, gray goldenrod, baby’s breath and white prairie clover that attract pollinators. The company will apply for certification of the sites as Monarch Waystations, meaning the sites meet criteria to be placed on a worldwide registry of butterfly habitats.

The site conversions will begin in March, just in time for plants to bloom in early summer. Additional sites will be added across Columbia Gas’ 30-county service area. All sites will be marked with signs and flags.

Columbia Gas President Herbert A. Miller, Jr. said the project is a reflection of the company’s longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship. The conversion of the sites is expected to eventually lead to a reduced carbon footprint and less soil disturbance and erosion.

“Finding new ways to do our work while protecting the environment is vital to our industry. We must always be open to new ideas,” said Miller.

The project brings to Kentucky a national trend among utility companies to reduce the use of vegetation control measures, including controlled herbicides, which have a tendency to impact or eliminate the habitats for insects critical to the ecosystem. Like other utility companies, Columbia Gas is responsible for keeping ROW corridors free of debris and other safety hazards. Columbia Gas currently maintains ROW over about 2,600 miles of natural gas pipeline.

Kentucky State Apiarist Tammy Horn Potter with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, or KDA, said the collaboration of Columbia Gas with other businesses and utilities represents the type of long-term commitment that needs to happen to improve pollinator health. Columbia Gas has partnered with Horn and KDA to host in June the Kentucky Pollinators Program conference, where they will make a presentation about the pollinator program. 

“When corporations increase pollinator habitat, pollinators have access to improved nutrition and can increase their numbers,” she said. “This project is an exciting model to be emulated everywhere, and Kentucky is really fortunate to have such conscientious efforts to increase pollinator landscape.”

For more information, please see the FAQs below:

Pollinator Program FAQ

What is a ROW?
Utility rights of way (ROW) are designed for the safe and reliable transport of natural gas, oil, electricity and other energy sources. Columbia Gas’ distribution network consists of about 2,600 miles of buried natural gas pipelines in the state of Kentucky. For the most part, the land on which these pipelines are buried is not owned by Columbia Gas, although Columbia Gas has the right to access and maintain the vegetation through a ROW contract with property owners that grants the company a legal right to perform inspections and maintenance.

Where are the pilot sites?
The pilot sites are:

  • University of Kentucky Research Park and Legacy Trail in Lexington
  • The Kentucky American Water tower site on Mercer Road
  • Masterson Station Park, Leestown Road in Lexington
  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc, Cherry Blossom Way and Outer Ring Road, Georgetown

What is the timeline for the pilot project?
The pollinator habitat sites in and around Lexington, KY will be established this spring. Current vegetation will be removed in March and April. The new seed mixture will be applied in May. The first flowers are expected in mid-June.

What is included in the seed mixture?
Kentucky-based native seed company Roundstone assisted Columbia Gas in designing the pollinator seed mixture that includes plants like Purple Prairie Clover, Blackeyed Susan, White Prairie Clover, Wild Quinine, Indian Blanket and Butterfly Milkweed. Detailed attention was given to selecting local native annual and perennial plants that are low growing, beneficial to pollinators and flower throughout the seasons.

Who will maintain the project sites?
Depending on what plants thrive in certain areas and what plants do not, pollinator habitat areas will change over time. Biodiversity intensity as well as the length of flowering duration will shift from year to year. Certain maintenance activities will be required to guide these changes. Columbia Gas will be responsible for the associated maintenance of the pollinator habitat sites.

What contractors are involved?
Contractors involved with the Columbia Gas pilot project will include:

  • Grow With Trees (GWT) provides eco-logical solutions for ROW maintenance practices. Currently, NiSource, Columbia Gas’ parent company, is working with GWT to develop a corporate-wide Sustainable ROW Management Plan that strategically combines environmental stewardship and ROW vegetation management practices, enabling NiSource to be an industry leader in bringing additional value to its customers. The company helped implement an organic hydroseeding program in Ohio and Pennsylvania last year. The Columbia Gas pollinator project is a practical implementation component of this overarching plan.
  • Forell Innovation, a vegetation management company, helps maintain ROW for the seven NiSource Columbia Gas companies.The company will be trained on special maintenance techniques for the pollinator project.

Will other sites be added?
Columbia Gas will continue managing all ROW for ecosystems, including pollinator habitat. Based on the success of the pilot, additional pollinator habitat sites will be considered in Fall 2018.