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Posted 6/13/2016

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By Steve Rochette
USACE Philadelphia District


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District and the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) co-hosted an Engineering With Nature (EWN) workshop June 7-8 in Philadelphia. A multi-disciplinary team from around the country met to discuss the EWN program and highlight best practices and capture new project ideas.

EWN encourages project planners and engineers to intentionally align natural processes with engineering processes to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits through collaborative processes. Collaboration with other federal agencies and non-profit organizations has been a key component of ongoing initiatives within the program.

The Philadelphia District recently became a Proving Ground, which involves incorporating EWN principles and practices to serve as a model for other USACE Districts.

“We view EWN as a common-sense and practical approach and by hosting the workshop, we are hoping to gain more expertise and awareness on our team,” said Ken Goldberg, Philadelphia District Deputy for Programs and Project Management. “We’re going to continue to look for opportunities within our program to incorporate these concepts.” The Galveston and Buffalo Districts are also Proving Grounds.

The two-day workshop featured opening presentations on a number of topics, including coastal resiliency; marsh restoration; natural and nature-based features; habitat enhancement and regional sediment management, and interactive breakout sessions to identify opportunities for applying EWN concepts in participants’ respective areas of responsibility.  

Dr. Todd Bridges, Senior Research Scientist, highlighted examples of applying EWN concepts from around the world.  “Essentially, we are trying to use science and engineering to create operational efficiencies,” explained Dr. Bridges. “We want to rely on Mother Nature’s engine whenever possible and with that, we can provide a variety of benefits to society and derive savings.”

The 35 participants included planners, regulators, environmental resources professionals, engineers, project managers, two Philadelphia District team members from reservoir projects in Eastern Pennsylvania, EWN Leadership Team members and ERDC subject matter experts.

“Traditionally, most EWN projects have been in the navigation and coastal areas, but we are trying to involve other members of the District team and grow the program,” said Monica Chasten, a Project Manager from the Philadelphia District’s Operations Division.

The Philadelphia District has demonstrated the potential to engineer with nature on multiple projects. After Hurricane Sandy, the District team faced the task of clearing critical shoals from the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway. The team partnered with ERDC, the state of New Jersey, and non-profit organizations to beneficially use the dredge material to restore marsh and build coastal resilience.

Projects were completed with innovative construction techniques, including thin-layer placement, and are now being monitored by USACE and partner organizations. Completed work includes nesting bird habitat on Ring Island in August 2014; a small thin-layer placement demo project near Avalon in December 2014; a larger effort near Avalon completed in 2016; and a fourth project at Mordecai Island completed in 2016.

Although some of these projects are relatively small in size, they could serve as a model for future efforts across the country. For more information on the Engineering with Nature program, visit: www.engineeringwithnature.org.