VICKSBURG, Miss. – Dr. Todd Bridges, senior research scientist for environmental science for the U.S. Army and national lead for the Engineering With Nature (EWN) program, kicks off Season 2 of the EWN Podcast by announcing that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Mobile District is joining EWN as its fourth proving ground.
Bridges and guests ― USACE Mobile District’s Justin McDonald, coastal resiliency program manager, and Elizabeth Godsey, coastal engineering technical lead — discuss the important role EWN will play in expanding and diversifying the value of infrastructure in the future.
As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, infrastructure will play a key role in helping economies around the world recover. The World Economic Forum estimates $100 trillion dollars will be committed to infrastructure projects worldwide in the next 30 years.
As Bridges notes, the Mobile District was leveraging EWN before the program was officially founded. Over the past two decades, Mobile District’s innovative technical teams have worked collaboratively with federal and state agencies and local community members to identify infrastructure solutions, including innovative work to protect and restore barrier islands. As an EWN proving ground, Mobile District will have the opportunity to share lessons learned with others and showcase the district’s work in Mississippi, Alabama and in the Florida Panhandle.
In Episode 1, Bridges, McDonald and Godsey discuss two large-scale island-restoration projects that demonstrate the power of collaboration and cutting-edge science and engineering. Deer Island is a multi-phase initiative for which beneficial use of dredged sediment is being used to repair and restore the island and create marsh habitat. Restoration of the southern shoreline used dredged sediment from the navigation channel to create marsh habitat and a recreational area for local kayakers — a cost-effective, beneficial use of the dredged sediment that produced significant environmental and social benefits. Work on the southeastern end of Deer Island will create another 400 acres of emergent island. The Deer Island restoration projects are also helping to ensure that the coastal resilience benefits provided by the island, with respect to coastal storms, are sustained into the future.
McDonald and Godsey also discuss Mobile District’s work on Ship Island — another critical barrier island — which had a 3.5-mile-wide breach from hurricanes Camille and Katrina. The team and their construction partners placed nearly 19 million cubic yards of sand to restore the islands and the sediment transport system. McDonald talks about the importance of sourcing the right size and color of sand to support sea turtle nesting. Agency experts collaborated to make the effort successful.
Coastal islands are important natural features that protect the mainland and provide multiple benefits to coastal systems and communities. As Godsey discusses, “These islands serve as our frontline of defense. We have a diverse coastline that encompasses more than 375 miles of shoreline from the St. Mark’s River in Florida at the east all the way to the Pearl River in Mississippi. It was important to start looking at a system-wide approach.”
Mobile District has a long history of working collaboratively to develop innovative solutions to restore critical barrier islands. Bridges emphasized that “collaboration is a multisector need and requirement for success. It’s government working across government; it’s government working with the private sector and with industry. It’s all of us working with the nonprofit sector and everybody working with communities to deliver projects that they need. It takes all of us working together.”