Dirt Cheap Design: The emerging market for a dredging byproduct

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) moves dredged sediment as part of the Cuyahoga Valley Industrial Center (CVIC) project completed in 2010.
Photo © Robert Mimms, courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

By Michael D. Izard-Carroll
The expression ‘dirt cheap’ may soon take on a deeper meaning thanks to some changes occurring throughout the country—particularly in the Great Lakes region. While most people think of dirt or, more technically, ‘soil,’ in terms of farm fields or construction borrow sites (i.e. designated locations from which fill materials are excavated for use elsewhere), changes in the dredging industry may soon provide a new dimension for a wide range of commercial, environmental, and agricultural projects.

Both private and government agencies (e.g. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [USACE]) routinely dredge the nation’s lakes and rivers so vessels can access inland ports. Every year, they remove over 2.2 million m3 (3 million cy) of sediment from the five Great Lakes alone. Considering only Lake Erie, USACE dredges an average of more than 1.1 million m3 (1.5 million cy) annually.

Historically, dredgers placed excavated sediment at authorized locations on the lake or delivered it to large diked structures called confined disposal facilities. Recently, however, the dredging community has been working to find better uses for dredged material. Legislation passed by the State of Ohio to reduce lake placement—the historical practice of placing dredged sediment into designated areas of a lake, typically adjacent to the harbor being dredged—has bolstered emphasis on beneficial use alternatives.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority (TLCPA) is currently leading an effort to plan for the full-scale implementation of beneficial use of dredged materials for agricultural and blended soil product purposes. TLCPA designed and constructed a facility specifically for this purpose, called the Great Lakes Dredged Material Center for Innovation. This facility is now operational, and received approximately 30,582 m3 (40,000 cy) of dredged sediment last summer. TLCPA is currently assessing best management practices for use of these soils on farm fields.

Another notable example of useful application of dredged sediment is the Cuyahoga Valley Industrial Center (CVIC) project, completed in 2010. This unique Recovery Act demonstration project involved the reuse of approximately 229,366 m3 (300,000 cy) of dredged sediment, taken from a USACE-confined disposal facility near Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. The material was used at a 23-ha (58-acre) brownfield site. The objective of the project was to overlay the existing site soils with cleaner dredged sediments to create a viable location for redevelopment. The work resulted in an elevated, buildable site that garnered widespread support from local and state stakeholders.

“This project serves as a prototype for similar projects that might benefit from upland use of dredged materials,” says Bryan Hinterberger, outreach specialist with USACE’s Buffalo, New York, district.

“There seems to be broad support for beneficial use on the Great Lakes,” says Frank O’Connor, PE, senior project manager for CVIC. “People see it as an attractive alternative to either building expensive new confined disposal facilities or open lake placement. However, there continues to be a need to develop more cost-effective upland or in-water alternatives for these materials. We’re confident that opportunities are available with the abundance of material, private sector innovation, and a strong desire to make it work.”

“This can be an opportune time for businesses interested in being on the forefront of an emerging market,” says Michael Asquith, the dredging program manager for USACE’s Buffalo district. “Gaining experience from beneficial use projects could ultimately prove to be a game changer in terms of having access to significant quantities of soil in urban areas where navigation channels are located.”

The Buffalo district is currently developing bid documents for the excavation and reuse of up to 76,455 m3 (100,000 cy) of dredged sediment from the confined disposal facility in Cleveland. These documents will be issued this spring, with an anticipated bid opening in July.

“We are performing environmental assessments on the sediment prior to the bid to get a leg up on providing data for prospective bidders. We’re also laying the groundwork for any environmental approvals that may be needed for proposed end uses,” says Asquith. “These materials can be a dirt cheap option for projects located in the region.”

To contract with the U.S. federal government, a business must be registered. Some businesses may receive priority in the bidding process if they are owned by veterans, women, or members of minority groups, or if they are situated in a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) zone. More information can be found online.

Michael D. Izard-Carroll is the public affairs specialist with the Buffalo district office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and has worked for the federal government for more than 10 years. Izard-Carroll regularly publishes articles for USACE and is also in charge of the district’s social media presence. He can be reached via e-mail at michael.d.izard-carroll@usace.army.mil.

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