On December 12, 2018, the Great Lakes Dredging Team (GLDT) hosted its 2018 fall webinar meeting. The meeting discussed local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging programs along the Great Lakes, GLDT business and committee reports, and updates on beneficial use projects in the region.
GLDT serves as a forum for Great Lakes dredging interests, both governmental and industry, to discuss the region’s dredging needs. In 1993, the Department of Transportation Maritime Administration initiated the Interagency Working Group on the Dredging Process, which recommended establishing a team for the Great Lakes region to address timely issues and find solutions through interagency coordination.
The morning meeting included reports from the Corps, updates on GLDT business and legislative issues, and member roundtables.
Marie Strum from the Corps Detroit District outlined the federal projects along the Great Lakes, the status of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, FY18 and FY19 federal funding for the Great Lakes, and some ongoing dredging projects for the region, including Indiana Harbor, Cleveland Harbor channel and the Soo Locks.
Sarah Helton of Michael Best Strategies provided a legislative update for the group. The “minibus” bill passed in September 2018 to stave off a government shutdown until December, included a number of provisions that affect the Great Lakes.
Important legislation in the works, she said, includes authorization and appropriations for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study. This study will look at 5,200 miles of shorelines within the Great Lakes states to ultimately develop a Great Lakes Programmatic Coastal Resiliency Plan, in part by taking an inventory of existing coastal data and making recommendations for future collection, identifying problems and opportunities for coastal resiliency and assessing the most vulnerable areas.
Helton discussed the Water Resources Development Act of 2018, highlighting the focus on public-private partnership, new funding mechanisms for non-federal sponsors, and expediting the study and project evaluation process.
She also mentioned a proposal that the administration floated last year. The Office of Management and Budget proposed taking permitting authority from the Corps and moving that to the Department of Transportation. “This is something we will keep an eye on in terms of the next administration budget, as far as a shifting in resources,” Helton said. She did also note that such changes would require Congressional approval. “So, understand that cannot happen overnight, and there would be many hurdles to overcome for this to become a reality,” Helton said.
Engineering with Nature
The afternoon presentations started with a focus on beneficial use. Burton Suedel, Corps Engineering and Research and Development Center (ERDC); Dan Breneman, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA); Amanda Meyer, Corps Detroit District; and Scudder Mackey, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), presented “Implementation of Beneficial Use of Dredged Material Projects in the Great Lakes, a.k.a., Engineering with Nature: Lessons Learned, Remaining Challenges and Further Opportunities.”
Suedel, from ERDC, began with a broad overview of the Engineering with Nature concept and drilled down to more specific projects.
Engineering with Nature follows four main concepts: science and engineering that produces operational efficiencies; using natural processes to maximize benefits; broadening and extending the benefits provided by projects; and science-based collaborative processes to organize and focus interest, stakeholders and partners.
The progressive evolution of beneficial use began decades ago and continues to evolve today, guided by many resource documents – the most recent being “Dredging for Sustainable Infrastructure,” by the International Association of Dredging Contracts (IADC) and the Central Dredging Association (CEDA).
Suedel also said another manual is in the works for publication in 2020. These guidelines for the use of natural and nature-based features for sustainable systems will examine full project life cycles (planning design, engineering, construction and maintenance), looking at overarching topics and coastal, and river/inland applications.
To finish, Suedel gave some examples of beneficial use projects outside the Great Lakes basin, including Deer Island in Biloxi, Mississippi; Middle Harbour Port of Oakland, California; and Stone Harbor, Mordecai Island and Avalon in New Jersey.
Suedel said for the Great Lakes, Engineering with Nature strategies aim to expand its reach, “identifying ways to broaden our use of beneficial use of dredged material,” he said.
AOCs and Other Beneficial Use Challenges
Breneman of MPCA discussed the opportunities for beneficial use in the St. Louis River Estuary, part of the Area of Concern (AOC) program. The project is cleaning up contaminated sediments and restoring aquatic habitat in the estuary. The work was jointly administered between MCPA and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He highlighted the cross-agency collaboration that made the project possible, and how they addressed the beneficial use impairments early on in the pre-construction and design phase. Detailed metrics and data collection made it possible to concentrate on the areas with the highest probability of success.
The program received funding from state and federal funds. With its many agency partners, “We assembled an impressive volume of data,” Breneman said. “This wealth of information has helped demonstrate the ecological benefit from all these projects. We want decisions that we make to be transparent and scientifically defensible.”
The in-water placement process within the AOC program includes first approving the material. Then, quality assurance plans create guidance for how to assess the environmental conditions of locations where material will be placed. Breneman said the design-based approach for approving locations is similar to material testing, based on physical, chemical and biological parameters.
Amanda Meyer from the Corps Detroit District focused on beneficial use projects from that district, which included many successes. At the end of the 2018 season, one million cubic yards of dredged material had been beneficially reused in the St. Louis River. She also highlighted upcoming projects for FY19, 20 and 21.
The challenges for beneficial use projects, Meyer said, include the specific requirements for material. “When customers come to us, they have something in mind. Usually something very sandy that doesn’t have a lot of turbidity when you place it,” she said.
Timing is another big challenge. “The projects take a while to plan,” Meyer said. To be included in the annual operation and maintenance (O&M) budget, which keeps projects on a strict schedule for permitting, design and environmental planning, “lining all that up and planning ahead can be a challenge,” she said.
The quantity of material needed might also be a challenge, particularly for O&M. Smaller quantities of material aren’t as viable because they are harder to justify economically. The O&M program is further limited by what type of projects can be funded. “The more complicated designs can’t be funded under O&M,” Meyer said.
To overcome these challenges for beneficial use, Meyer recommends more strategic planning, especially for O&M funding, engaging stakeholders, so the projects have someone else advocating for the plan, and having multiple options for project sites where different material can be accepted.
Design by Portfolio, Not Project by Project
Scudder Mackey from ODNR gave an update on the beneficial use projects in Ohio. He characterized the sediment as mostly fine-grained materials, silts and clays, which had generally not been thought of as high value. The material was thought of, and regulated, as a waste, but the state has taken many steps to change that, both public perception and implementing new beneficial use rules.
The state has also spent a great deal on sediment processing facilities, which “allow us a lot more flexibility in terms of receiving the material,” Mackey said. The state has also used sediment for environmental enhancement (in-water wetland habitat restoration and nature-based shorelines); for manufactured products (as a component of another product such as cement); and for agricultural applications.
The state has many ongoing implementation strategies for beneficial use projects, including performing a systemic analysis of beneficial use opportunities along the entire 312-mile Ohio Lake Erie coastline. The program would characterize sediment along the coast and incorporate that data into a GIS system. The State of Ohio has received considerable funding over the last few years to benefit many projects and initiatives. The Dredging Center for Innovation along the Maumee River is testing the use of dredged sediment for cropland.
Mackey highlighted the need “to design a suite of projects,” he said. Rather than project by project, look at the system more like a long-term financial investment and develop a portfolio of projects that achieve certain goals and objectives.
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