Comprehensive Planning Services for Eco-communities and Infrastructure Projects

Reducing impacts & increasing opportunity
Western North Carolina is growing rapidly, with new residents arriving daily. Many of these new residents moved here because of the region’s spectacular beauty and Western North Carolina’s reputation for sustainable living. This provides a compelling starting point to plan and develop both infrastructure and eco-communities with ecology in mind.

Iinfrastructure and planning

When Helia Environmental worked on projects to defeat poorly-chosen alternatives for two transmission line projects and an interstate-bypass, it saw how infrastructure project planning often omits ecological and community values and knowledge. This led to the demise of these routes. Helia saw the potential impacts to the environment and how poor planning impacts all of us, especially those in impacted communities. Now he’d like to extend his services to utilities, especially rural cooperatives. We offer a wide variety of tools for your infrastructure planning needs. Whether a solar utility, a fiber optic network, or a transmission line, we can help.

Alternative Routes and Siting

Examine all viable alternative routes and sites to determine the best route We want to look at anything that is viable and determine the best alternative. This is based on multiple criteria such as distance, costs, terrain, and expanding existing rights of way or using new. In addition, we look at Conservation Values such as rare species, Natural Heritage Areas, old growth, and other significant features. Using the best available data, the most suitable alternative can be chosen.

project need

Establish a proven project need backed by data and based on sound engineering and socioeconomic principles Projects need to be defended on the basis of need. All alternatives need to be listed, deemed viable and compared in terms of costs and benefits to the project.  This can include long-term cost/benefit on an economic basis, a service basis, and other factors both quantitative and qualitative. This is very important because we want to be able to show that the project has a real benefit. If need is not proven, then there is no project.


Minimize impacts through sound analysis What we want to do is minimize impacts as much as possible. We want to use compatible rights of way or infrastructure as much as is practical such as roads, existing electric infrastructure, rail and pipeline routes, and so on, to minimize impacts. We want to minimize impacts on communities, schools, churches, access to business, and Conservation Values such as water quality, rare species and habitats, and Natural Heritage Areas.  Impacts to landowners and land uses can also be minimized by not fragmenting land, using straight lines and shortest distance, analyzing terrain, and keeping lines along property boundaries, as examples. We need to know socioeconomic, conservation, and other values within the project area, so that we can select the best alternative, minimize impacts in the project area, and defend the selected alternative.

route and siting models

Model the route and its impacts Impacts need to be mapped and quantified. Our model measures impacts such as number of streams crossed, natural communities affected, structures within a route buffer, community values, and so on.

Full suite of Services

We offer a full suite of other services as well: Phase I ESA, Wetland Delineation, Natural Resource Inventories, Ecological Mapping and Analysis, Rare Species Surveys, Soil and Erosion Control Plans, Videography, Photography, Documentation,

nepa planning

Helia’s Lloyd Raleigh received a certificate in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning from the Duke Environmental Leadership Program, with the idea that knowledge of NEPA would be able to assist those wishing to plan and minimize their impacts.

sustainable development and residential planning

Ecological Planning is an Asset

ecological sensitivity and your land

Helia can help you with your eco-communities, green residential neighborhoods, and residential planning needs. As someone wanting to develop an area, you might wonder: how can I do it in the most ecologically-sensitive manner possible? The answer, of course, depends on your land.

know your resources

With a goal to develop with ecological sensitivity, knowing your natural resources and conservation values is fundamental. Helia can show you which soils are best for development or for other uses. Helia can show you rare species, natural communities and other conservation values on your land. Helia is happy to help you inventory your land. That information then becomes like gold not just in planning, but also in marketing your eco-community.

ecological planning

With all conservation values and attributes inventoried and mapped, Helia can help you to determine the issues and opportunities involved in your project and to plan your dream eco-residences.

Case Study

Biltmore Lake

Biltmore Lake planning

In 2016, Biltmore Lake contracted with Helia Environmental to create a forest management plan for 672 acres of common areas and neighborhood blocks.
It is more than evident that Biltmore Lake chose the right person with a depth of knowledge for drafting our forest management plan. The end result was a detailed report that will remain a valuable guide for the community for years to come.
Bill McMannis

On-Site Manager for Biltmore Lake Association

plan contents

The forest plan included detailed studies of canopy cover, soils, natural communities, rare and uncommon species, water resources, common areas, issues and opportunities, street and yard trees, aesthetics, and management actions. The 79-page document was designed for the Biltmore Lake Association, managers, and homeowners to study and use in a practical way.

Most significant

Bill McMannis, the on-site manager describes the process as follows: “This was no simple task and required Helia to inspect the wooded portions of our community, meet with committee volunteers and meet with members of the community’s development company.”

Case Study

Box Creek Wilderness

A derailed infrastructure project

The 7,000 acre Box Creek Wilderness is not only a conservation success story but also a case study of how infrastructure projects can become derailed, if planning isn’t adequate. Rutherford Electric planned a transmission line through the heart of the tract, which included rare species, rare natural communities, steep terrain, and unfragmented mature and primary forests.

proper planning is key

Conservation and transmission lines can coexist with proper planning.

inadequate analysis

Taking a step back to look at the project, one major piece was inadequate analysis of route alternatives and costs. With already existing power line rights-of-way, alternative, less expensive and less ecologically destructive routes could have been chosen.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with Lloyd Raleigh on a nature conservation project spanning over 20,000 acres of North Carolina land and have been continually impressed by his diligence and enthusiasm, both for the work in the field and in meetings with conservancies and their constituencies.  His efforts in both areas played a decisive role in securing the protection of 7000 acres of Box Creek Wilderness in Rutherford and McDowell Counties in partnership with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and others.
Tim Sweeney

CEO of Epic Games and largest conservation landowner in North Carolina

A SOlid Case

Helia Environmental, as one of the primary researchers on the project, worked with a team of dedicated professionals including MacGavran Engineering.  Engineering data combined with ecological and environmental data, provided a solid case against pushing a transmission line through Box Creek while affirming the suitability of less-impacting alternative routes. The front page Charlotte Observer article above shows how contentious the issue was.