By Audrey Payne, Environmental Defense Fund
Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E & E) is an environmental consulting firm that was founded in 1970 and prides itself on its ability to get “the most environmental bang for your buck.” A few of their projects include helping countries around the world write environmental policy; working on environmental issues through social and political turmoil, oil embargoes and environmental disasters; and helping to restore the Gulf Coast. Environmental restoration has become a major part of E & E’s work, and the company has paired up with several non-profit organizations on projects, including The Nature Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Audubon Society, Riverkeeper and a few land trust organizations. The company’s goal is to remain ahead of the curve in environmentally sustainable practices, and it has been instrumental in not only carrying out restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico, but also in planning them.
“The Gulf Coast is everyone’s responsibility,” says Bill Hudson of Ecology and Environment. “We are particularly pleased that Congress has finally passed the RESTORE Act. Beyond directing much-needed funding to the gulf, the legislation does a great job of integrating ecological and economic recovery and making sure that projects across the region are planned, coordinated, and managed using the best available science and ecosystem-based and adaptive management approaches.”
Ecology and Environment, Inc.: A philosophy of sustainability
Ecology and Environment, Inc., headquartered in Lancaster, N.Y., has offices in 43 cities across the United States, including one in Baton Rouge, La., as well as 17 more offices throughout the world. The company has worked in just about every ecosystem imaginable, from the arctic to the tropics, and it employs over 1,150 experts in 85 different science and engineering disciplines, contributing to its multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. The company strives to promote economic and human development in an environmentally sustainable manner and says that “sustainability is the culture in which we live, work, and conduct business; it extends from our local neighborhoods to the global community.”
Ecology and Environment, Inc. offers services in several markets, including power, government, oil and natural gas, renewable energy and mining. One of its points of pride is its approach to ecological and ecosystem management. Hudson says an example of E & E’s expertise in ecosystem management is its work with oyster beds. “Anybody could go out and build an oyster bed,” explains Hudson. “But you don’t want to build an oyster bed in water that’s not good for growing oysters. If there’s too much sediment, or if the water’s not right, or you’re destroying a bed of seagrass to put in the oysters, then they’re not going to grow like you want them to, and it’s not worth it. That’s why we do a lot of planning, testing and assessing before we actually take action.”
Ecology and Environment and the Gulf of Mexico
Before Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster of 2010, wetland restoration in the Gulf of Mexico had not been a main priority of the nation, even though it is well-documented that wetlands provide storm and flood protection to communities and natural areas as well as habitat for wildlife and seafood. However, those two disasters put restoring the gulf on the nation’s radar, and E & E has been heavily involved post-disaster. Hudson points out that E & E staff has attended almost every gulf restoration conference since the BP oil spill.
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, E & E worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Louisiana to document damage to coastal wetlands. They conducted habitat analyses to find out where the most damage had been done, and they also helped develop restoration plans in several national wildlife refuges, such as Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Big Branch Marsh and Bayou Sauvage, to diminish the negative effects of storm damage. The Mississippi River Delta acts as an incredibly important habitat for waterfowl, and this habitat has been put at risk by damaged wetlands and strong storms.
In collaboration with Arcadis, E & E worked with the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR) on the Innovative Dredging Initiative project. The purpose of the project was to develop a plan to look at new contracting techniques and bidding methods that could reduce the cost and streamline the design of constructing restoration projects. E & E also led the development of the Inland Marsh Restoration Plan for Louisiana and investigated new dredging contracting techniques and bidding methods that could reduce costs while streamlining the design of dredging projects.
These projects included a study proposal on alternatives to dumping dredged soil into upland confined disposal facilities (CDFs) or into the Gulf of Mexico. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is required to dispose of sediment dredged during the maintenance of waterways in the most cost-effective way possible. E & E proposed instead that the dredged sediment could be beneficially used to for wetland restoration. The proposal included locating ideal wetland areas to restore with sediment, creating a schedule of high-priority beneficial use restoration projects, developing cost projections and integrating these findings with OCPR’s existing plans. This was all part of E & E’s decision to take an active role in proposing how best to restore the coast.
“With the passage of RESTORE, there is a huge opportunity here to set a new international standard for integrated, large-scale ecosystem restoration, and E&E is eager to be a part of it,” said Hudson. “Hopefully, RESTORE will lead to many, many more restoration projects once the funding becomes available.”