U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District’s Regional Environmental Specialist Janelle Stokes couldn’t have been more pleased when she learned she would be presenting an overview of the district’s beneficial use program to a group of visiting Louisiana State University students who are just as interested in dirt as she is, and on their way to becoming the next leaders in the field of landscape architecture.
“There are a lot of design challenges and engineering requirements associated with the placement of dredged material,” said Stokes.
“One of the biggest difficulties is getting the elevation right so vegetation and marsh habitat can flourish. There is a tidal range of about 1.5 feet in the areas where we place material, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.”
The LSU students, enrolled in the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, traveled to Galveston yesterday to visit one of the district’s beneficial use sites known as the Corps Woods, to get a better understanding of infrastructure sustainability issues, remediation and green infrastructure design in landscapes associated with maritime commerce such as the district’s Beneficial Use Program.
“Within the context of the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay, the students have been looking at a broad range of sustainability issues,” said Rob Holmes, visiting faculty at Louisiana State University’s Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. “The beneficial use of dredged materials is one aspect of that range. Other issues include coastal erosion, storm surge, flooding, sea level rise, subsidence, toxicity and contamination from industrial activities (particularly the petrochemical industry), non-industrial economies (fishing, shrimping, oysters) and coastal habitats.”
Project Manager Byron Williams, USACE Galveston District, provided students with an overview of the district’s Beneficial Use Program and discussed the environmental requirements associated with using dredged material for projects.
“Annually, the Galveston District dredges approximately 30 to 40 million cubic yards of material,” said Williams. “While undertaking its mission of keeping America’s waterways navigable, the Corps is often able to turn dredged material into an added benefit for homeowners, tourists and businesses by employing environmentally and economically responsible methods to use the materials to improve eroded coastlines and renourish beaches.”
LSU student Prentiss Darden, a second-year student in the Master of Landscape Architecture Program, was interested in seeing the district’s projects up close for a variety of reasons.
“In visiting the dredged materials site, we were able to see it within its context to experience the scale of it in relation to the surrounding landscape and understanding how it is built over time,” said Darden. “Additionally, we gained a better understanding of dredged material sites that we otherwise would not have achieved through analysis of satellite photos and Internet research.”
The students were provided a tour of the heavily wooded strip of land on the island’s East End, which is part of the district’s beneficial use site that was developed using dredged material extracted from the Houston Ship Channel. The site quickly became a pristine habitat for wildlife and serves as a model for responsible ways to use dredge materials to improve eroded coastlines through marsh restoration.
“One of the big issues that I’ve seen in relationship to dredging is a transition from viewing dredged material as a waste product toward viewing dredged material as a resource,” said Holmes. “Part of this transition has come as a result of recognizing the ecological and aesthetic value of flora and fauna that take root on dredged material sites.“
Williams explained the district’s partnership initiatives with other federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions to find innovative solutions to challenges that affect everyone – sustainability, climate change, endangered species, environmental cleanup and ecosystem restoration, then acknowledged the importance of the students’ studies and future careers in architectural landscape.
“In your career as a landscape architect, you will most likely work with agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find solutions to restoring ecosystem structure and processes as well as be tasked with managing projects in a sustainable manner to leave the smallest footprint behind,” said Williams.
According to Holmes there is a growing recognition that natural and human processes exist not in opposition, but in relationship with one another and therefore it is imperative that future leaders in this industry find a balance between development and the environment.
“These realizations are key to our current studio project, which is particularly concerned with the potential role of landscape architects in active industrial, infrastructural and logistical systems–places where natural systems cannot be divorced from human inputs, but must make use of and coexist with human activities,” Holmes said.
From Galveston, the students will travel to the Port of Houston where they will visit with maritime industry leaders to learn more about active industrial and infrastructural sites that are associated with maritime commerce such as container terminals, refineries, tank farms and dredge disposal areas as well as discuss how designers can contribute to both the improvement of these places and the improvement of their relationships to the cities that they are embedded in, through techniques like envisioning soft, biologically-based infrastructures and contributing to the remediation of pollutants with landscape systems.
The LSU School of Landscape Architecture is known for its rich and extensive off-campus educational opportunities. The school sponsors field trips throughout the year to the northeast, west coast, Florida, Texas and Georgia. Beyond the United States, the school organizes opportunities for students to travel, study and work in Mexico, Asia and Europe.
Press Release, February 24, 2012