“Sweet Days Like This” – Realizing the Benefits of Fairlawn’s Wetland Oxbow

By: Katherine Holmok, ASLA, Director

“My mama told me there’ll be days like this.

I’m reminded of this Van Morrison song when I visit completed projects like the City of Fairlawn’s Wetland Oxbow. This is a project where the end result was so sweet, and everything fell into place.

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The project started with the initiative of the Service Director and Mayor to reduce local flooding in the southern portion of the city. The intersection of Brunsdorph and Ridgewood Road had historically flooded and so had the homes nearby.

The City challenged us . . . “Can you provide a solution that addresses 1) flood control 2) a wonderful park amenity and 3) science education?”

“Of course we can!”

With that charge, we looked into our knowledge toolbox and, after brainstorming as to how to utilize an un-programmed park nearby, proposed the solution of a wetland oxbow.

Wetlands stabilize streambanks and prevent erosion by absorbing energy from flood waters. Wetlands also support a wide variety of plant and animal populations. Did you know that in Ohio, wetlands support roughly two-thirds of the bird species and three-fourths of the amphibian species that are listed as threatened or endangered, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources? Wetlands are also a cool place for people to hang out, watch birds or kill time while you’re waiting for a soccer game (the wetland is located next to the Fairlawn soccer fields).

Wetlands are even described as “nature’s hazard insurance” and likened to sponges, since they store rain that runs off the land and slowly release it to the atmosphere, groundwater, adjacent lakes, rivers and streams. While the ability of any particular wetland to reduce flood damage varies, strategic wetland protection and restoration can help reduce damage by controlling flood peaks. They can also reduce the need for expensive projects such as levees, detention ponds and reconstruction of flood-damaged roads.

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Healthy streams and wetlands filter sediment, nutrients and pollutants from our waterways. Excessive sediment and nutrients can smother fish and bugs in our streams, increase flooding by filling in pools and create erosion. Good stream water quality can even reduce treatment necessary to clean drinking water. This restoration project in Fairlawn, for example, can filter and reduce more than 50 tons of sediment per year. That’s more than four dump trucks full!

Sediment reduction is especially important for this project in Fairlawn due to its location along Smith Ditch. Smith Ditch is a petition ditch. A petition ditch takes its meaning from the rich history of Ohio when an intricate system of agricultural ditches were created to drain fields, encouraging agricultural economic growth. These petition ditches allowed rainwater to soak into farm fields and drain away from the crops during a flood. As shopping malls increasingly populated the state building over these farms, the speed of rainwater flowing into these ditches increased– eroding stream banks and transporting sediment downstream. Wetlands like this project, though, trap sediment and decrease the speed of floodwater (as shown in the aerial photo below, taken just after a heavy rain storm).

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The wetland oxbow in Fairlawn took three years from idea to completion. There were many challenges along the way that became so worthwhile in the end—when you can watch a blue heron skim the water’s surface or a child’s eye wide with wonder as a frog plops onto the wetland from the shore. The challenges fade away when you see successful, lovely wildflowers that provide food for pollinators (like bees and butterflies) growing along the wetland’s edges.

To know that we built a project that provides habitat for animals, offers food for bees, reduces flooding and is open to the public, providing education for all . . . it’s great to know there’ll be “days like this”!

Thank you to the Ohio EPA for partial funding of this project, the City of Fairlawn for the vision of a public open space and Cavanaugh Construction for constructing this fantastic piece of living science.

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The Life of an Intern at Environmental Design Group

By: Tyler Schrader, Marketing Intern

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When people hear the word “intern,” so many misconceptions can run through their mind. They can think of movies where the intern runs around fetching coffee for everyone in the office or does pointless tasks to learn obedience. Yet, times have changed. Internships are becoming extremely valuable and even necessary for the company, not to mention crucial for the intern’s education. EDG has held us interns to extremely high standards, and I can at least speak for myself when I say the experience I have gained has far surpassed my expectations.

Julio Williams, a senior transportation engineer, is the intern/co-op coordinator for EDG. Shortly after he joined the EDG team, he took on the role and has found he really enjoys the part he plays to expand the firm’s knowledge with soon-to-be graduates.

“It’s rewarding for me to watch the growth of the co-ops and interns. They come in not knowing much about the things we do, software we use or corporate culture– and in a very short time they are able to just fly through relatively complex tasks,” said Julio Williams. “They are acquiring a complete education since it combines theory with real world practice.”

At EDG we call ourselves, “The Community Impact People,” and the firm has certainly made an impact in the lives of six young students this past summer by giving each of us an opportunity to join the EDG team. Nick Nelson, Don Carey, Sarah Flis, Ericka Howard, Gavin Swtizer and myself were all hired for this amazing opportunity to gain work experience.

Having this experience has taught us all, individually, something new.

“I have greatly improved in my knowledge of AutoCAD and Excel, and have experienced what a civil engineer specializing in water resources does on a daily basis,” said Ericka Howard. “I have also learned how to size pumps and design water lines.”

Sarah Flis has learned equally as much about her field of interest. “I was introduced to a new program called, Microstation, and am now able to decently maneuver my way around the program,” she said. “I have also gained a better understanding of how roadway designs work–how all of the pieces and parts fit together.”

EDG has gone above and beyond to make sure that when our time comes to an end, every intern is leaving here with more knowledge than when they arrived. This, coupled with the individual impact staff has made on interns, is what makes working here so beneficial.

Nick Nelson relayed his experience working with the many people who have taught him, helped him grow and left him with a positive impact.

“There are a few people that have made quite an impact on me so far. Between Julio Williams, Clint Flaherty, and Frank Bronzo, I’m not sure who has done more,” said Nick Nelson, construction intern. “Each of them has certain things that they do that might seem small to them, but are important to me.”

For myself the person that made the biggest impact upon me was Shannon Singler. She has shown me what it means to be in the marketing field– how to do it and do it right. I have learned more from her than some of my professors I have had during school. She was always willing to work with me, she encouraged me and believed that I could handle larger marketing tasks.

I think I can speak on behalf of all the interns when I say that EDG has forever impacted us in numerous ways. Whether it was imparting knowledge to us, making us feel welcome the second we walked through the door or having popcorn days to show a little employee appreciation– this has been an unforgettable summer for each of us interns.

 

The “So Much More” of Stormwater Management

By Jill Ward – Senior Professional Engineer

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As a senior professional engineer with Environmental Design Group, I have the opportunity to engage in all aspects of project development and design, but I have to admit . . . I still get geeked-out about stormwater management and green infrastructure design.

The role of plants as excellent pollutant removal agents still amazes me. They are a perfect fit to treat stormwater since they naturally break down oils and filter sediment. The reason we treat stormwater runoff is because of the pollutants it can acquire as it travels to its drainage site. As soon as it hits the ground and moves towards local collection systems, the water will pick up dirt, grease, oils and all kinds of things– things we don’t want in our streams, rivers and lakes. Once these undesirables have reached the waterways they are very difficult to remove. Utilizing plants in this way is really biomimicry at its best, not to mention they aren’t bad to look at.

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It’s because of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (N.P.D.E.S) that stormwater management is necessary in the first place. It’s a permit program that was created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act, for the capacity to authorize state governments to perform program aspects related to stormwater permitting, administration and enforcement. Its overarching requirement is that stormwater runoff generated from newly constructed or reconstructed areas should be treated by way of an approved Best Management Practice, or BMP. These BMP’s promote water quality and correspond to appropriate water quantity prior to discharge into waters receiving the runoff. BMP’s range from detention basins to rain gardens, to pervious pavements to wetlands, and more.

Changing a site’s landscape (as any designer knows) can dramatically increase the stormwater run-off, and managing that could prove challenging – especially in urban settings or when there are major site constraints such as topography or ownership boundaries. This is where I come in, to design practices to manage the stormwater on project sites.

Finding solutions to these challenges are what I consider to be the exciting part of design. I am fortunate to work with a team of people who believe stormwater management is not merely a byproduct of development but should be publically celebrated on the site and within the landscape. Stormwater green infrastructure is not only an effective form of management, but it also enriches the community.

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Integrated in the beginning of the design process and appropriately placed, the BMP’s become visual enhancements that serve multiple purposes including infrastructure, beautification, outreach, education and more.

At Environmental Design Group, we have had the opportunity to work with many communities assisting in their stormwater management needs, from developing a municipal G.I. handbook to designing stormwater retrofits using green infrastructure. Many of these areas not only require infrastructure improvements but benefit from the capital dollars and attention to their neighborhoods.

It is remarkable to see the transformation, not only of the community landscape, but the mindset of people who live and visit the areas where we have designed stormwater management strategies. It’s a great opportunity, from our perspective, to provide the community with positive impacts to the environment that also reinforces safety and a sense of pride in the communities we serve.

Sustainable Practices at Camp Wakeman – An Engineer’s Unique Privilege and Challenge in the Design Implementation

By: Nick Barr – Design Engineer

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Working with clients who place good resource stewardship at the top of their priority list are some of the most rewarding to work with . . . since stewardship drives our firm’s objectives too. Camp Wakeman was one of those projects–and more.

As a project partner for the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, we made their vision come to life for a youth camp and adult retreat center. The center is meant to be a camping sanctuary, but it also features a working, sustainable farm that gives campers the opportunity to connect with nature in an educational and informative fashion.

Their overall vision for the camp is to be largely self-sustaining, with help from campers to cultivate the crops in the organic farm, and to maintain and respect its rain gardens and bio-swales. It’s the recycled stormwater from underground cisterns that will be used to water the gardens and landscaping. The buildings will be energy efficient, and even the waste from the toilets will be composted. It’s amazing to see and implement so many opportunities for sustainability.

The challenge and the privilege for us was designing much of the infrastructure to support their vision. We worked closely with the Diocese as well as the architect to develop a plan that was efficient, functional and effective. Designing the site work, utilities and stormwater management features was a unique opportunity, and it was impressive to fully grasp the reaches of sustainable practices the Diocese intended to implement.

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Some of the work was especially challenging. For instance, we implemented a way to make installing pipes sustainable! In order to be conscious of the environment, we were intentional about giving directions to the contractor about where to park equipment and store materials as well as recommendations for preserving top soil and protecting trees. We did our very best to preserve its key natural features such as fields and orchards when we demolished the building, installed pipes, tanks or driveways. Horizontal drilling was the method we used to minimize impacts to ground features when drilling for HDPE water lines, sanitary force mains, electrical conduits and communication ducts.

By thinking through every aspect of how to best preserve the property and set up the Camp to incorporate sustainable practices, we laid a foundation that will enable its campers to learn about recycling, gardening, raising animals and water conservation.

For campers, it’s an opportunity to engage in a hands-on experience. It’s learning a manner of living that is self-sustaining– to live as good environmental stewards. As we look forward to fast-approaching construction in the coming weeks, the possible impacts of Camp Wakeman will be limitless—for the environment, for the Diocese and each camper’s spirituality.