By Bryan Hinterberger
Navigation is the earliest Civil Works mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the Corps of Engineers performs maintenance dredging in the Great Lakes Harbors to support navigation, the activity results in the collection and transport of a valuable resource: sand and soils.
Incidentally, the abundance of dredged sediment presents new business opportunities for existing markets and innovative firms. The new opportunities involve developing alternative uses for materials that were not previously deemed usable; the industry term for the emerging market is “beneficial use.”
In collaboration with the Great Lakes Dredging Team, the Corps of Engineers has been working to develop a robust beneficial-use manual entitled “Environmental Evaluation and Management of Dredged Material for Beneficial Use: A Regional Manual for the Great Lakes.” The purpose of the manual is to consolidate federal and state environmental guidance into one comprehensive resource. The manual serves to provide regional guidance for evaluating the environmental suitability of dredged material for beneficial use and is written with the end-user in mind.
“We hope the manual will make it easier and more efficient for all parties involved in beneficial use of dredged material to determine if their material is environmentally suitable for a given placement option,” said Dr. Karen Keil, co-chair of the Technical Committee for the Great Lakes Dredging Team. “The manual should make it easier to implement beneficial use projects.”
Common beneficial use opportunities include in-water placement of material for habitat restoration or storm protection, as well as numerous upland uses like fill material, landfill daily cover or even agricultural applications. The appeal of dredged material is that it is a relatively unknown commodity and therefore market prices are likely far below commercial substitutes.
“There is huge potential for upland uses by the private sector,” said Michael Asquith, project manager with the Corps of Engineers. “The manual should reduce some of the guesswork that may now be hindering market activity.”
The manual was released in draft form in October 2016, for review by state and federal agencies; review will rely heavily on the partners to ensure a high-quality, vetted product is available. States like Ohio and Minnesota are currently developing or revising regulatory rules governing beneficial use. Ohio, for example, is in the process of writing rules and guidance that will identify the regulatory framework for beneficial use of dredged material. The Corps of Engineers plans to finalize the first version of the Regional Beneficial Use Manual by September 2017, but also plans to conduct regular revisions thereafter to include the most current state guidance and regulations.
While the Beneficial Use Manual provides a comprehensive overview of the regulatory guidance, potential users may also require specific data about the nature of the sediment. The Corps of Engineers routinely samples sediment and conducts laboratory analysis to determine physical and chemical properties, before dredging occurs, to meet environmental requirements. In the past, the Corps of Engineers has been able share this data with others wishing to use the dredged sediment. Evaluation of the data is a major first step toward identifying the universe of viable alternatives. Potential distributors of dredged sediment must first understand the value of this information and how to utilize it in order to establish a reliable supply chain.
“Also in 2017, the Corps of Engineers plans to solicit bids from parties interested in acquiring up to 100,000 cu. yd. of soil from the Cleveland Harbor Confined Disposal Facility 10B,” said Asquith.
Analysis Under Way
The Corps of Engineers has already dredged the material, placed it in the facility and dewatered it. Chemical and physical analyses of the soil are underway and validation of the data will follow. The Corps of Engineers will develop the appropriate environmental assessment and complete a health risk assessment; the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will have the opportunity to review both. The data and health risk assessment will accompany the solicitation, tentatively scehduled for this month. Reviewers will evaluate bids based on desired quantity of material, schedule and price.
The concept of beneficial use of dredged material represents a coincidence of wants. Markets exist for sand and soils. The Corps of Engineers handles massive volumes of dredged material while maintaining Federal Harbors for commercial navigation.
As a result, abundant materials are available for private sector firms to obtain for a variety of purposes. While the private sector seeks profit based on risk and reward, the Corps of Engineers’ mission is to provide essential services to the public by operating in a cost-effective, environmentally acceptable manner; the opportunity for innovation lies where each sector’s objectives are met.
Bray Hinterberger is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For more information about the Regional Beneficial Use Testing Manual, a webinar presentation is available at greatlakesdredging.net/files/11-2016-Regional-Beneficial-Use-1st-Webinar.pdf. Businesses interested in contracting with the U.S. federal government must be registered on www.sam.gov. Some businesses may receive priority in the bidding process if they are woman-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned or situated in an Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) zone. For more information, visit www.sba.gov or call 800-U-Ask-SBA.