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Towering Hills for Beauty and Strength

Governors Island

Photo: Timothy Schenk

A dozen years ago an American port representative was asked how his port was preparing for rising sea levels. “Well…we aren’t,” he answered, somewhat sheepishly, because he knew they should be. Back then, the public was skeptical of the controversial topic, and frankly many ports had too many other priorities. But now public officials see the situation in a new light. They are taking advantage of waterfront development projects to make property not only more resilient to climate change, but also more beautiful and beneficial to the public.

A perfect example is the 40-acre Governors Island Park and Public Space in New York. West 8, an urban design and landscape architecture firm, transformed the abandoned former military island into a green oasis with an extraordinary 360-degree experience of water and sky that has won numerous awards. Part of the makeover involved creating four tall, dramatic hills from twenty-five to seventy feet high. This meant overcoming a major challenge involving Governors Island history.

Governors Island Park and Public Space

Pumice, or lightweight fill (the light colored material) is placed on the water side of the tallest hill. Image courtesy of West 8

From Subway Dirt to Island

Back in 1637, when a Dutch man bought Governors Island for two ax heads, a string of beads, and some nails, the island was only about 72 acres. In 1901, somebody needed a place to discard the dirt from the excavation of New York’s Lexington Avenue subway line. What better place to put it than Governors Island? The dirt widened the island by 100 acres.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Now that the island had been sold back to the people of New York for one dollar, it was possible to take advantage of the island’s potential views, which meant building upwards. To create the new hills, West 8 needed to add 300,000 cubic yards of new fill—enough to fill 40 Goodyear blimps. The challenge was to keep that massive amount of dirt from pushing the island built on subway fill out into the harbor.

Hart Crowser worked with the lead civil engineer to make the hills strong yet light. Twenty-five percent of the new fill is from the demolition of structures and parking lots. This made it sustainable and strong. Pumice lightened the load. Some of the fill was wrapped in geotechnical matting, and the steepest slopes used wire baskets. This allowed hills as high as seventy to be built within twenty feet of the shoreline, and allowed for varying slopes and walkways, where the public can safety enjoy the park.

Governors Island reopened to the public on May 28.

Shaken and Stirred: Northwest Earthquake and Tsunami

Washington 9.0 earthquake--Are you ready? Oregon 9.0 Earthquake--Are you ready?Suddenly the Pacific Northwest is on the national stage for its earthquake and tsunami vulnerability, thanks to a New Yorker article. “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz, has triggered attention from dozens of local papers and news sites. Yet even before the New Yorker shook the Northwest (pun intended), Oregon Public Broadcasting had been featuring Hart Crowser engineer Allison Pyrch in its “Unprepared” series, to alert the region to the impending disaster in hopes that we will get prepared.

Also, Allison recently gave a presentation for the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network: “Surviving a 9.0, Lessons Learned from Japan and Beyond.” If you are involved in emergency management or just plain interested in massive disasters and their aftermaths, settle in for some powerful visuals and easy-to-follow explanations about earthquakes in Japan and Chile, how the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami will happen in the Pacific Northwest, and what you can to do to be resilient.

Watch the whole “Surviving a 9.0” video to get unusual insight into what’s ahead, or if you’re pressed for time, skip to one of these minute points:

  • 9:00 Jan Castle introduces Allison Pyrch 10:56 Allison Pyrch’s presentation begins with how the Pacific Northwest 9.0 earthquake will happen
  • 14:25 Comparing the Japan and Chile quakes “It didn’t stop shaking for a day”
  • 21:45 Fire damage/natural gas 22:30 Water, wastewater, and electrical systems; liquid fuel; natural gas
  • 24:25 Lifelines/infrastructure/airports “PDX will not be up and running”
  • 28:35 Port damage/economics
  • 31:45 How prepared is the Pacific Northwest? When will it happen? “We are 9 ½ months pregnant”
  • 35:00 What will it look like?
  • 37:32 What you can do
  • 40:30 What businesses can do
  • 42:11 Can you be sustainable without being resilient?
  • 43:33 What about a resiliency rating system similar to LEED?
  • 53:30 Will utilities, transportation, hospitals be useable after the 9.0? “We’re toast”
  • 1:01:30 End of Allison’s presentation; additional information from Jan Castle on how to prepare
  • 1:19:19 How sustainability measures in your home lead to resiliency

Increase Your Points Toward LEED Certification

Federal Center South

Federal Center South, the most energy-efficient office building in the Pacific Northwest, may achieve LEED Platinum. Energy Piles, recycled wood and construction debris, and stormwater infiltration galleries contributed LEED points.

Most LEED points come from efficiency in design and construction areas such as energy, water, materials, and indoor environmental quality. That’s why it may not be obvious how geotechnical engineers and environmental scientists contribute to LEED certification. Since LEED Silver is a requirement for most new public buildings, with LEED Gold the new normal, owners need every possible point. Here are several avenues to gain more:

Sustainable Sites – Several credits are available, including Brownfield Redevelopment (Credit 3); Protect and Restore Habitat, including green roofs (Credit 5.1); and Stormwater Design, including infiltration, reuse, pervious paving, swales, and other LID solutions (Credits 6.1 and 6.2).

Water Efficiency – Credits are typically based on the percentage of reduction in the use of potable water for the new development. Water-efficient landscaping, reuse of rainwater, and capture and reuse of groundwater in the irrigation or building systems can cut water use by 20% or more. Designing efficient filters for graywater recycling can lead to additional points.

Energy and Atmosphere – Credit 2 (On-Site Renewable Energy) allows as many as 3 credits for generating up to 7.5% of the building’s power usage on site. Properly designed ground source heat pump geothermal systems will achieve this goal and these points.

Materials and Resources – Again, several credits are available: Credit 2.1 Construction Waste Management (diverting demolition debris from landfills or incinerators), Credit 3.2 Materials Reuse (reusing salvaged building materials like foundation piles), Credit 4 Recycled Content (using materials such as ground down tires or recycled glass for backfill).

Innovation & Design Process – New or innovative energy saving solutions that have been applied to a site development can be described, justified, and submitted for potential extra points.

Geotechnical and environmental professionals can work with design and construction teams to gain as many as 5 or 6 additional points – and that might be the difference between Silver and Gold, or Gold and Platinum.