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Landscape architecture seniors from the LA 4010/Sediment City-The Galveston Project course survey Galveston Bay, Texas earlier this semester. They will formally present ideas to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on May 3.

Seniors aim to artfully dodge Texas storm swells

Cornell landscape architecture seniors are working side by side with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to integrate ecology and beneficial public use with engineering performance to protect humans, barrier islands and shipping channels against storm surge at Galveston Bay, Texas. The students will make final presentations May 3 to Corps engineers and project managers.

“Innovations in landscape architecture and environmental engineering have created an opportunity to rethink landscape elements as a critical component of the infrastructure in environmental adaptation,” said Brian Davis, Cornell assistant professor of landscape architecture, who led 11 undergraduates to Galveston in February for his design studio – LA 4010/Sediment City-The Galveston Project.

The students’ model projects at Galveston Bay offer a way to combat climate change with methods to protect against flooding, create a public use, maintain water navigation and improve environmental health over time, said Davis.

The Cornell students also worked with the Engineering with Nature Program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Research and Development Center on how to integrate natural and artificial features.

They developed a variety of projects. For example, Jacob Kuhn ’18 examined the western side of Galveston Bay, proposing to create an island archipelago and restore wetlands from dredged material. His designs would cut off storm-created waves to protect the bay and the channels.

Abdulaziz Alrifaie ’18 sought to assemble diverse species habitats in his project called Sediment City. He envisions a park – made from the dredge material – between large flood gates and Galveston island.

“A levee proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the flat coastal topography were the base of my design,” said Alrifaie. His design mixes multilayered zones of habitat, trapping sediments over time and creating a diverse ecosystem of social and ecological interactions with the costal landscape.

Caterina Brescia ’18 studied tidal structures to dissipate damaging wave action, with a goal for those structures to become a resilient coastal dune ecosystem that enhances recreation and creates new habitats.

Cristian Umaña ’18 examined Galveston’s Rollover Bay and Rollover Pass on the Bolivar Peninsula to redirect sediment from plugging the adjacent Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GIWW). “I’m hoping my design can reduce the costs the Army Corps puts into dredging that channel,” he said.

The Rollover Bay area is a rich, historic site, where whiskey and rum smugglers eluded law enforcement officers during Prohibition. Umaña’s plan called for delta-shaped forms to deflect sediment onto nearby shores and prevent sediment from reaching GIWW, expanding habitats for aquatic species, boosting potential vegetation, and creating better environmental and recreational opportunities around the bay.

During a preliminary presentation in mid-April, two engineers were impressed. “No one has proposed this kind of solution. It’s pretty cool, and I like it,” said Rob Thomas, chief of engineering and construction for the Army Corps in Galveston. “It’s a really efficient sand trap and you’re making a better sand trap.”

Sharon Tirpak, the Army Corps’ Galveston district project manager, said: “The Army Corps has wrestled with this problem, and I think we should model it.”

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Jeff Tyson