During its first meeting, the committee was briefed by representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the current status of the windows-setting process. On the basis of these briefings, the committee decided to conduct case studies of dredging projects to expand its knowledge base. Additional outreach and information-gathering opportunities were also identified. All of these activities were completed prior to the workshop and provided important input to its design and execution, as well as to the draft template described in Chapter 3. These preparatory activities are described below.
Information for each case study was solicited from both USACE and NOAA. The committee developed forms to be used for providing the requested information (see Appendix D). These forms were sent to USACE Headquarters and subsequently distributed to all USACE districts. NOAA was asked to provide information on the case studies submitted by the USACE districts.
The following USACE districts responded to the original request: Mobile, Galveston, Norfolk, Baltimore, Detroit, New England, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Rock Island. The districts provided basic information on
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A Process for Setting, Managing, and Monitoring Environmental Windows for Dredging Projects: Special Report 262 2 Workshop Preparations, Design, and Major Points of Discussion Workshop Preparations During its first meeting, the committee was briefed by representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the current status of the windows-setting process. On the basis of these briefings, the committee decided to conduct case studies of dredging projects to expand its knowledge base. Additional outreach and information-gathering opportunities were also identified. All of these activities were completed prior to the workshop and provided important input to its design and execution, as well as to the draft template described in Chapter 3. These preparatory activities are described below. Case Studies Information for each case study was solicited from both USACE and NOAA. The committee developed forms to be used for providing the requested information (see Appendix D). These forms were sent to USACE Headquarters and subsequently distributed to all USACE districts. NOAA was asked to provide information on the case studies submitted by the USACE districts. The following USACE districts responded to the original request: Mobile, Galveston, Norfolk, Baltimore, Detroit, New England, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Rock Island. The districts provided basic information on
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A Process for Setting, Managing, and Monitoring Environmental Windows for Dredging Projects: Special Report 262 project specifics, involvement of state resource agencies, resources of concern, perceived impact, habitat type, life-history stages, technical evidence, and procedures used in setting environmental windows. In some cases, examples of the resource agencies’ decisions were included, and for some studies, committee members obtained additional information through discussions with USACE personnel, state resource agencies, and others familiar with particular projects. In one case, a committee member participated in an actual windows-setting meeting involving the state and federal resource agencies and USACE. The case studies also formed a basis for discussion at the National Dredging Team Conference held in Jacksonville, Florida, in January 2001. The overall findings from the case studies supported USACE’s original assertions to the committee regarding the efficacy of the windows-setting process. Districts reported substantial variation in the number of projects that have windows, the effort spent in developing the windows, the extent of interagency coordination and cooperation, the level of regulatory restrictions, and other factors. Although some districts have better-developed processes than others, one of the impressions resulting from this exercise was the lack of consistency in the windows-setting process. The case studies also revealed large differences in the scientific evidence used for setting windows. In some instances, no such evidence was provided. Some decisions were based on outdated data and information; some were based on the authority or opinion of the resource agency; while a few were based on specific scientific observations. The proposed windows were generally accepted by USACE as unavoidable restrictions on the projects. As a result, formal objections were rarely raised, as there appeared to be no reliable process for dispute resolution. Economic considerations were generally not factored into the windows-setting process. Disputes appeared to be more common among agencies in the interpretation of existing data, and there was apparently little attempt to include a broad range of stakeholders in the process. Although some windows were set on the basis of environmental conditions (e.g., temperature) that could be monitored, relatively little monitoring was generally done to verify biological impacts, although in some cases the resource concerns (and the windows) changed over time, indicating that the conditions were actively reviewed as the project progressed. The lack of participation by certain resource agencies in the windows-setting process was cited as a shortcoming, which is a problem that all parties recognize. Some of these agencies did not send representatives to attend meetings or entered the process fairly late, causing significant delays and disruptions. Many resource agency representatives have commented that they do not have readily available the staff or the fiscal resources to participate fully in the process, especially on a project-
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A Process for Setting, Managing, and Monitoring Environmental Windows for Dredging Projects: Special Report 262 by-project basis. Other shortcomings in coordination and communication among agencies were also noted. Outreach Efforts The committee sought opinions and comments from a wide range of key stakeholders as input to the workshop. The committee was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the Sea Grant Conference on Dredged Material Management: Options and Environmental Considerations, held in December 2000 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and to plan and host a full-day session at the National Dredging Team Conference, held in January 2001 in Jacksonville, Florida. During both meetings, the committee members apprised the audience of the upcoming environmental windows workshop; invited their participation; and actively solicited feedback, particularly on the information provided in the case studies. A copy of the questionnaires distributed by the committee for this purpose at the meetings is contained in Appendix E. Workshop Design The workshop was structured to enable the committee to produce three primary outputs: An analysis of environmental dredging windows as a management tool, with an emphasis on (a) their effectiveness in protecting natural resources; (b) the processes by which they are developed, applied, and managed; and (c) other management and technological tools available that could be used in conjunction with or instead of environmental windows to provide the appropriate level of protection of aquatic resources. A set of recommendations for improving the process by which environmental windows are developed, enhancing the efficacy of windows as one of a number of tools available to protect natural resources, and promoting greater consistency in their development and application across regions. A process template outlining specific steps designed to ensure the involvement of all stakeholders and effectively integrate scientific and engineering data. The goal of this template is to introduce greater consistency, reliability, and predictability into the windows-setting process and to establish a firm scientific foundation for windows-setting decisions. The committee designed the workshop to facilitate information exchange; maximize dialogue and participation by attendees; identify the major categories
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A Process for Setting, Managing, and Monitoring Environmental Windows for Dredging Projects: Special Report 262 of unresolved research questions; and produce the raw materials needed to develop a process for setting, managing, and monitoring environmental windows for federal dredging projects. After reviewing the case studies and consulting with a number of agencies, the committee prepared a draft process template before the workshop to stimulate discussion. This draft template was presented during the opening plenary session of the workshop. Participants were challenged to focus on reviewing, revising, and refining the draft template, or developing an entirely different alternative by the end of the workshop. Throughout the workshop, results of each session were summarized and incorporated into the draft template. As the template was revised and refined during the course of the workshop, it was presented periodically to the participants and to a commentary panel comprising senior-level executives from USACE, NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a state resource agency. After each presentation, the committee met and revised the template, as appropriate. Major Points of Discussion The majority of time at the workshop was devoted to working group sessions focused on such issues as the current state of the science concerning the biologicalecological impacts of alternative dredging technologies, new developments in dredging techniques and technologies, analytical methods for assessing costs and benefits, and the administrative process currently followed for establishing windows in various districts. In addition, participants in breakout sessions were challenged to focus the discussion of each issue on environmental windows and to make specific recommendations for improving the draft template. Major points of discussion that emerged from the sessions included the following: Although there have been some examples of effective and successful environmental windows for dredging projects, many participants noted that it is impossible to demonstrate direct causation between a specific dredging and disposal operation and the long-term health of a particular species or natural system. Participants also noted that environmental windows have been used historically as a tool for protecting juvenile fish, shellfish, and other marine life, as well as critical habitats for spawning, nursery, and foraging—particularly during the early life stages. Windows are used as well in certain circumstances (e.g., threatened or endangered species) to protect species at the individual level. Additionally, there are species that, while not formally listed, may warrant special consideration because of population status. Therefore, it becomes exceedingly difficult to
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A Process for Setting, Managing, and Monitoring Environmental Windows for Dredging Projects: Special Report 262 separate spatial and temporal considerations within an estuary when setting environmental windows for dredging projects. In general, the scale of threat to a species should be the key consideration when selecting the most appropriate management tool. Environmental windows should be targeted toward the most sensitive life stages of selected species of concern. Participants also observed that in the absence of complete scientific information regarding the potential impact of a dredging project on a given species, resource managers should adopt a precautionary, risk-averse approach when interpreting existing regulations. Although there has been significant research and experience regarding the risks of dredging to species at the individual level, little work has been done on the risks of dredging at the population level. Population-level effects are therefore poorly understood, and in the context of windows have been used inconsistently to protect resources at this level. Nevertheless, participants stated that individual-, population-, and ecosystem-level effects should be important management considerations for any given dredging project. Many participants noted that appropriate monitoring—before, during, and after dredging operations—should be designed specifically to measure the effectiveness of windows in protecting species of concern. A feedback mechanism should be established to incorporate the best information on existing tools, lessons learned, and related research to ensure that the process is managed adaptively in the future as new information is generated. If targets are defined properly, monitoring can be used to set or refine windows. Additional factors were identified that should be considered when establishing environmental windows. These factors include the following: human health and safety, cumulative impacts of dredging, and availability of agency staff and resources. In setting operational or physical controls, the target must first be defined (e.g., total suspended solids level, plume extent). For this step to succeed, the potential impacts must be identified specifically and quantitatively. Several participants suggested that problems involving the impacts of well-designed and -executed dredging and disposal operations often are mainly a matter of public perception. Windows should be accompanied by clear and explicit identification of what is being protected and how. Then the various aspects should be prioritized. The goal should be to strike a balance between the costs of resource protection and the costs of delay, and even of the no-dredging scenario. Finally, several participants commented that USACE and an independent group of engineering and industry (contractor) experts, with input from scientists, should recommend the most appropriate technologies for effectively managing the environmental impacts of dredging projects. For greatest efficiency, this should be done on a regional or local basis rather than on a project-specific basis.
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A Process for Setting, Managing, and Monitoring Environmental Windows for Dredging Projects: Special Report 262 Complete summaries of the workshop sessions are contained in Appendix A; the workshop agenda is provided in Appendix C. Throughout much of the workshop, the committee heard engineers express the desire for a clearly articulated target level of acceptable impact. Resource professionals also articulated a strong desire to interact with and provide input to the dredging engineers in an effort to foster a greater understanding of the biological resources potentially at risk. This expressed desire for cross-communication served as an impetus for the committee’s decision to recommend the process template contained in this report. The committee is confident that by integrating the knowledge provided by both scientists and engineers, the proposed process will lead to the establishment of windows that are predicated on a higher degree of scientific certainty than is currently the case.