Archive for Profiles in Resilience
Profiles in Resilience: ORA Estuaries wins 2014 Water Challenge business pitch at New Orleans Entrepreneur WeekApril 14, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Economics, People, Profiles in Resilience, Restoration Projects
By Keenan Orfalea, Communications Intern, Environmental Defense Fund
Last month, ORA Estuaries took first place in the 2014 Water Challenge business pitch competition at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. The Baton Rouge-based company beat out four other startups to claim the prize, which included $50,000 in seed money as well as free office space and legal counsel for a year. This support will help the company to expand the use of its innovative products and services in restoring Louisiana’s wetlands.
ORA Estuaries provides engineering, scientific and regulatory consulting services as well as project implementation for clients including local, state and federal governments. The company’s primary products are the patented OysterBreak™ and OysterKrete® technologies.
“The OysterBreak and OysterKrete technologies were originally developed in Louisiana to address Louisiana's coastal land loss,” said Tyler Ortego, president and founder of the company. “This prize package, combined with recent project successes, is critical to allowing ORA Estuaries to export that success to other areas of the country and world.”
ORA’s innovative technologies are specifically designed to facilitate the protection, restoration and healthy growth of coastal estuaries. OysterBreak™ is designed to use the gregarious, shell-building nature to form a living coastal protection structure. The system has proven more effective than alternative rock structures. By employing these tools, ORA Estuaries is able to accomplish its primary goals of stabilizing shoreline and enhancing marine ecosystems.
While ORA Estuaries may be a startup, Ortego has years of experience working in coastal engineering and natural resource management. He is a Graduate of Louisiana State University and holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biological Engineering, as well as being both a professional engineer and a certified oyster biologist with the state’s Oyster Lease Damage Evaluation Board. He started his career consulting on wetland restoration, flood protection and mitigation projects around Louisiana and the Gulf Coast before founding ORA Estuaries. Since then, the company has participated in a number of large-scale plans involving the study and design of oyster reefs and various other aquatic environments. Through the success of these projects, Mr. Ortego hopes they will become “the new definition of a living shoreline.”
Thanks to winning the Water Challenge business pitch, ORA Estuaries plans to use its innovator prize monies to help market their OysterBreak™ technology as a solution to coastal restoration experts internationally.No Comments
By Will Lindsey, Environmental Defense Fund
Allied Concrete Company, a 68-year-old firm based in Charlottesville, Va., is creating new business opportunities by partnering with conservation groups to deploy miles of new oyster reefs along the Gulf Coast. These reefs are composed of an innovative concrete product and create both a restored ecosystem habitat as well as a new business opportunity for Allied Concrete.
In 2011, the 100-1000 Coalition began implementing a project to build 100 miles of oyster reefs in Alabama, which would then support more than 1,000 acres of marshland. Coalition member organizations include Mobile Baykeeper, The Nature Conservancy, The Alabama Coastal Foundation, Weeks Bay Foundation, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, The Ocean Foundation, Alabama Wildlife Foundation and Coastal Conservation Association.
A displaced Louisianan, Allied Concrete company president Gus Lorber has a passion for saving the Gulf. “I grew up in Louisiana and worked, played and fished in the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast area my entire life,” said Lorber. “I have seen firsthand the degradation of the coastal wetlands in that area my entire life.”
Founded in 1945, Allied traditionally made concrete blocks, but the company has since diversified its product range in response to ever-changing markets and customer needs. Notably, in 2007, Allied joined forces with The Nature Conservancy and others to develop a solution to the declining oyster populations in coastal regions. The result of this partnership was the Oyster Castle, which is a concrete unit by Allied specially designed to build oyster reefs. The unit is made of a “certified blend of proprietary material conducive to attracting and fostering oyster settlement, attachment, and growth.”
Significantly, the Oyster Castle has received a gold Cradle to Cradle certification for its environmentally-friendly design. With Gulf Coast restoration projects likely to ramp up in response to potential monies flowing as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, Allied’s business is expected to increase. “I firmly believe that, as the RESTORE Act monies become available, the monies should be spent on creating economies in the ‘home’ states, and we are prepared to license local manufacturers to make our units to accomplish this goal,” says Lorber.
Allied is proud to be making a product that has a positive impact in the Gulf Coast. “Besides being my passion, all of my employees love what we are doing with Oyster Castles,” said Lorber. “They feel good about this company for helping the environment, they feel good about their part in making a product that plays a part in this, and they always volunteer for whatever hair-brained scheme I come up with to make products that do good things.”
In addition to providing habitat, oyster reef restoration projects provide numerous environmental benefits including water filtration, habitat for other marine life, storm surge attenuation and erosion control.No Comments
By Will Lindsey, Environmental Defense Fund
Louisiana-based company HESCO Bastion Environmental, Inc. is at the forefront of business innovations in response to the growing market for coastal restoration projects. Finding new uses for established products, the company is now involved in creating artificial oyster reefs and protective structures for wetlands. This arena of work is expected to expand and create more jobs in coastal communities as the RESTORE Act funds and other monies from the BP oil spill begin to flow.
HESCO’s original product, the Concertainer, is a barrier system that consists of galvanized welded mesh framed baskets complete with a non-woven geotextile liner. The product is offered in different dimensions and when properly assembled and filled with substrate, such as sand, creates a system of “walls of exceptional strength and integrity.” In the past, the Concertainer has been used primarily for flood protection and by the U.S. armed forces as a barrier against force.
Now, in the face of coastal erosion in the Gulf Coast, the Concertainer has been adapted to take on the challenge of coastal restoration. The aptly named “Concertainer Delta Unit” maintains the original shape and design of the Concertainer, but adds front, unlined compartments. These front compartments, which alternate between rectangular and triangular shapes, can be filled with materials, such as oyster shells, that provide habitat for aquatic organisms. The lined section can be filled with other substrates that encourage coastal plant life to be established. This allows for the restoration of coastal environments by creating a “living shoreline.”
Working with the University of New Orleans, HESCO demonstrated that the Concertainer could be used as an effective coastal restoration tool, by helping to rebuild degraded shoreline near New Orleans. Currently, with the potential for millions of dollars in funding to be directed to coastal restoration through the RESTORE Act and other payments from the BP oil spill, coastal restoration companies like HESCO could see a significant growth in business.
“Our products provide a low-cost solution to a wide range of coastal restoration and protection challenges, from oyster reef construction to flood protection,” said Stephanie Victory, president of HESCO Bastion Environmental, Inc. “We have completed projects all over the world…from emergency flood responses in Thailand to building HESCO Delta Unit oyster reefs just north of Gulf Shores, Ala. We are thrilled that the RESTORE Act passage will create more opportunities for jobs and coastal restoration efforts back home in Louisiana and across the Gulf region.”1 Comment
By Kaitlin Brown, Environmental Defense Fund
"We look at coastal restoration as the future of our company." — Dwayne Bernal, CEO, Royal Engineering
Royal Engineering & Consultants, LLC (Royal), a New Orleans-based engineering and consulting firm, is one of the many innovative businesses committed to rebuilding the Gulf Coast after the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Led by CEO Dwayne Bernal, Royal is dedicated to serving the public in a way that focuses not only on individual projects, but also on rebuilding strong local communities. The company’s 75 employees work in a variety of areas, including civil engineering, construction management, program/project management, environmental services, energy services and coastal engineering. Passage of last year’s RESTORE Act is expected to provide significant new funding for coastal restoration. This infusion will in turn benefit local companies like Royal and provide opportunities for them to grow.
"The RESTORE Act provides a catalytic opportunity for our nation to create and protect jobs, not only along the Gulf Coast, but in communities across the country that will provide materials, technologies and services for ecosystem restoration," says Dwayne. "We look at coastal restoration as the future of our company."
Royal’s coastal engineering services include but are not limited to: planning and design of ecosystem restoration projects, hydraulic and hydrodynamic modeling, shoreline protection, beneficial use of dredged material, marsh creation design and barrier island restoration. As coastal restoration funding is allocated to the Gulf Coast states as directed through the RESTORE Act, more projects like these will be approved, creating job and business growth opportunities for companies like Royal Engineering.
Bernal, who was born and raised in New Orleans, formed Royal in 2005, after witnessing the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on his hometown. "I worked in the engineering field for several local companies and then Hurricane Katrina hit, and I saw that basically as an opportunity to take that entrepreneurial spirit that I had within me and start my own organization," said Dwayne. One week after Hurricane Katrina, with 15 employees, Dwayne created Royal Engineering. Initially, the company assisted with hurricane cleanup, working on debris removal and quality assurance. But as time went by, Dwayne diversified Royal and added additional services and areas of expertise.
Following the devastation of Katrina, Dwayne realized that restoration of the Gulf was going to take more time and effort than anyone had predicted, and that everyone would need to play a role in order to restore the region and create a more sustainable environment for the future. Like so many other people throughout the Gulf Coast, Dwayne recognizes that the future of his beloved city and the Mississippi River Delta depends on the restoration efforts of companies like Royal Engineering. And Royal isn't planning on leaving New Orleans or the business of coastal restoration any time soon.No Comments
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.”
- Building a Restoration Economy: Environmental Restoration = Economic Restoration
- Ecology and Environment, Inc.
This piece builds on the "Profiles in Resilience" series started on Environmental Defense Fund's Restoration and Resilience blog. Please check back here for future installments.
By Audrey Payne, Environmental Defense Fund
“Restoring the earth, one community at a time.…” This tagline appears on the website of Biohabitats, Inc., an ecologically-driven company based in Baltimore, Md. Biohabitats specializes in conservation planning, ecological restoration and regenerative design and does restoration work in the Everglades, Big Cypress and Tampa Bay, Fla.; Texas and Louisiana; and has several office locations across the country, including Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico and New Jersey.
Company president and founder Keith Bowers has been a strong supporter of the RESTORE Act – legislation currently making its way through Congress that would bring 80 percent of the $5 to $21 billion in expected Clean Water Act penalties from the gulf oil spill back to the five gulf states for ecological restoration and economic development. Passage of the RESTORE Act would help companies like Biohabitats increase work along the Gulf Coast.
Economic Benefits of Coastal Restoration
“The Mississippi River Delta is home to millions of acres of coastal wetlands, providing habitat for commercial fisheries, recreation, natural filtering and storm surge protection,” said Mr. Bowers. “The ecological and economic value of these wetlands is undeniable, yet we are losing thousands of acres each year to overdevelopment, poor management and neglect. Restoring these wetlands will not only begin to reverse this decline, it will also add thousands of jobs in the process.”
“Coastal habitat restoration typically creates at least 3-4 times as many jobs as road infrastructure or oil and gas projects for every $1 million invested,” continued Bowers, who readily acknowledges that ecological restoration can be a real catalyst for job creation, economic vitality and ecosystem resiliency throughout the Mississippi River Delta. “Passing the RESTORE Act would help revitalize local communities while simultaneously increasing the natural capital that we all depend on for clean air, fresh water, healthy soils and wholesome food. It’s a win-win for everyone!”
Introducing Biohabitats, Inc.
The Biohabitats mission is twofold: To “restore the earth and inspire ecological stewardship” and to “inspire communities to rediscover a sense of place through preserving indigenous ecosystems, restoring biodiversity and inspiring ecological stewardship.” Biohabitats believes it has an ethical responsibility to protect nature and to restore it for future generations, and it does so with practices that are defined by blending sound science, place-based design and ecological democracy. Biohabitats stays true to its mission through a multifaceted approach to its work that revolves around ensuring that its actions respect and celebrate life, by engaging people and communities and by constantly evolving and improving its practices.
Some examples of Biohabitats’ work include performing ecological baseline studies, using geographic information systems, conducting focus groups, ecological modeling, ecological restoration, landscape management, invasive species management and stormwater management. The company has won several awards for its exemplary work, including three this year: The Texas ASLA Honor Award for Planning & Analysis, the Texas ASLA Merit Award for Residential Design Constructed and the Texas ACEC Engineering Excellence Silver Award for Water Resources.
Biohabitats and the Mississippi River Delta
Years of building canals through Louisiana’s wetlands for fossil fuel extraction have contributed to major ecological problems throughout the Mississippi River Delta. During canal construction, soil was piled up in mounds on the sides of waterways, creating opportunities for invasive species, such as the Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), to move in and disrupt the surface flow of fresh water. Kevin Heatley, a senior scientist at Biohabitats, works on restoring the wetlands of Louisiana. In a recent OnEarth Magazine article, Mr. Heatley described the Chinese tallow trees as “biological pollution.” In order to fix the environmental damage caused by these canals, they must be filled in with dirt and the invasive trees extracted, thus creating habitat for native species and restoring the natural flow of water and sediment in the wetlands.
The Barataria Preserve is one of the wetland areas that were disrupted by canal construction. It is a 20,000-acre forest and marsh that is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. Located south of New Orleans, it is part of the greater Mississippi River Delta region. Biohabitats is working with the National Park Service to repair damage to the landscape and restore healthy marsh ecology by removing invasive tree cover, placing excavated soil back in the canals, preserving native trees, restoring native soil levels to where they were before the canals and allowing the free flow of water and recolonization of native marsh species in the area.
“The backfilling of canals is one of those rare restoration initiatives where the results and gratification are almost instantaneous,” said Heatley. To date, Biohabitats has restored over five linear miles of marsh within the preserve, eradicated the invasive Chinese tallow trees, allowed the natural free flow of water and created habitat for native vegetation.
“I work across the United States on restoration projects and our work in the Barataria Preserve is something that I am particularly proud of,” said Heatley.
There are over 10,000 miles of exploratory canals in coastal Louisiana, so these five restored miles are just a start. Hopefully, the passage of the RESTORE Act will lead to many more successful restoration opportunities like this one.
- Building a Restoration Economy: Environmental Restoration = Economic Restoration
- Duke University report: Restoring the Gulf Coast: New Markets for Established Firms [PDF]
- Duke University report: Restoring Gulf Oyster Reefs: Opportunities for Innovation [PDF]
- Walton Foundation report: Job Creation from Gulf Coast Wetlands Restoration [PDF]