PHILADELPHIA – Monica Chasten, Operations Project Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District, received a national award on Capitol Hill for her efforts to help re-establish coastal navigation and restore degraded marsh in New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Chasten was honored with the Army Corps of Engineers Award by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) during a ceremony at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. in Feb. 2015. ASBPA bestows the honor to an individual who makes significant contributions to coastal projects.
The ASBPA citation stated that Chasten “epitomizes the role of a public servant and has been a tireless advocate for Regional Sediment Management practices.”
“Two days after Hurricane Sandy hit, we went to New Jersey coastal areas with a survey team and none of us had seen anything like it in terms of the devastation. It was a humbling experience,” said Chasten.
Chasten said that the Army Corps’ Philadelphia District began working with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, the state of New Jersey and several non-profit organizations on ways to dredge for coastal navigation purposes and use the material in a beneficial way to help restore impacted shorelines as well as degraded marsh in back bay environments.
“Sometimes a storm can change the approach and that’s what happened in this case,” said Chasten. “The hope is that these methods can be a model for future projects.”
The USACE Philadelphia District partnered with the state, and non-profit organizations on two marsh restoration and habitat creation demonstration projects along the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway. The Army Corps, New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and the Green Trust Alliance joined efforts in 2014 on the initiative.
The first demo project involved dredging the federal channel of the Intracoastal Waterway near Stone Harbor and Middle Township, N.J. The Army Corps’ contractor Barnegat Bay Dredging Company removed approximately 7000 cubic yards of fine-grain sand from a critical shoal in the waterway. The clean material was then pumped through a series of pipes and placed on degraded marsh.
Coastal marshes are vulnerable to degradation as a result of subsidence and sea-level rise, which causes a loss of marsh grasses and nesting habitat for birds. The first demo project targeted the creation of habitat for the state-endangered black skimmer species. The project also incorporated thin layer placement, a technique designed to pump several inches of clean fine-grained sediment onto marsh, providing a foundation for marsh grasses to take root. This method can be a sustainable solution when dredging small quantities of sediment.
A second demo project took place near Avalon, N.J. Barnegat Bay Dredging Company removed 6000 cubic yards of material from the federal navigation channel and placed the sediment on nearby degraded marshes. Chasten said the second project required a combination of filling in eroded pool and panne areas of the marsh as well as conducting more thin-layer placement.
The projects were completed in 2014 and have been monitored for ecological benefits by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy.
“These projects are examples of the Regional Sediment Management approach – we try to balance the need for dredging for navigation purposes with the fact that sediment can be a resource for ecological benefits and shore protection purposes,” said Chasten. “We need to keep clean sediment in the system when possible to restore critical habitats and build overall system resilience.”
Chasten said the methods tested on the demo projects are also examples of a practice known as Engineering with Nature, which aligns natural and engineering processes to deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits in an efficient and sustainable way.
Chasten said USACE plans to award a contract in the spring of 2015 to dredge critical shoals in two different areas of the Intracoastal Waterway: near Avalon N.J. and Beach Haven, N.J.
“We’re working with the state now on beneficial use options for the material in these areas,” said Chasten who added that material could be used again for marsh restoration purposes in the respective areas.
Dredging is necessary along the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway to ensure safe maritime navigation. When the dredged material is clean and suitable sediment, USACE looks for opportunities to reuse the material. In the past, dredged material was pumped into confined disposal sites cut off from coastal processes.
Chasten credited partner organizations, including the state, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, the Nature Conservancy, the Wetlands Institute and Barnegat Bay Dredging Company, for persistence and innovation as the team worked through various challenges.
Dredging and placement activities are funded by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-2, also referred to as the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill) through an existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District contract with Barnegat Bay Dredging Company. Partner organizations were funded through a U.S. Department of Interior grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.