Restoring Former Industrial Land to Benefit Nature & Community
Working with its parent, The Dow Chemical Company (“Dow”) under a services agreement, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) wanted to redevelop land previously used as a tank storage facility and a coal-fired power plant. The 47-acre parcel is adjacent to the Kanawha River and is divided by two smaller streams that flow into the river (Fig. 1). UCC’s goals were to redevelop the area as a greenbelt to meet all regulatory requirements by delivering rainwater via sheet flow (overland flow that is not in any defined channels) to the streams, while also helping to control erosion and improve overall aesthetics for the community. The company needed to evaluate redevelopment alternatives that would meet these goals in a cost-effective manner.
Using the ESII Tool
A team from Dow, The Nature Conservancy and EcoMetrix Solutions Group used the ESII Tool to collect ecological data and get results for the baseline condition. These results helped to inform three redevelopment options for the site and UCC, which were then compared using the ESII Tool. The options included:
- Standard redevelopment: clear the engineered infrastructure and plant a lawn
- Option A - Basic sustainable landscaping: plant native plants and grasses
- Option B - Enhanced sustainable landscaping: use a combination of native plants, grasses, shrubs and trees as ground cover and restoration of the stream; the trees would also provide visual screening.
These alternatives were designed to deliver a priority set of ecosystem services: water provisioning, water quality control (including removal of total suspended solids and nitrogen), erosion control, and visual aesthetics.
The ESII tool showed that Option B provided a higher level of performance than the standard redevelopment option for 5 of 6 priority ecosystem services; Option A provided higher performance for 3 of 6 of these services (Fig. 2 and Table 1). Using these data as input for a cost analysis showed that Option A was cost-competitive with the standard redevelopment option, while Option B was 25% more expensive due to stream restoration costs. However, both Option A and B were more cost-competitive when benefits to nature and the community were included.
By using the ESII Tool, UCC was able to achieve the goals identified at the onset of the project while also enhancing nature for roughly the same net present value. The ESII Tool facilitated and inspired UCC’s design team to develop a cost competitive alternative built around the benefits offered by sustainable landscaping principles. In other words, the team learned that spending slightly more for enhanced plantings and restoration leads to greater ecosystem services and benefits to UCC and the surrounding community while significantly reducing maintenance and operational costs over the life of the project. As a result of this project, UCC’s civil engineering group is considering embedding sustainable landscaping practices where appropriate.
Enhancing Ecosystem Services & Reducing Business Costs: Greenbelt Restoration
Dow wanted to explore restoration options for a portion of greenbelt at its Midland, MI facility that contains legacy site issues. The 37-acre parcel is located on the Tittabawassee River, adjacent to a park and brownfield site both owned by the City (Fig. 1). Dow’s standard restoration practice would be to cap the site and plant grasses. However, Dow wanted to consider whether alternative ecological restoration options that excavate the area and restore habitats could reduce operating and maintenance costs and enhance benefits such as water quality and noise reduction for Dow and the surrounding community.
Using the ESII Tool
A team from Dow, The Nature Conservancy and EcoMetrix Solutions Group used the ESII Tool to evaluate three options for restoration of Dow’s greenbelt site together with the City’s brownfield site:
- Standard brownfield restoration (SBR) on the greenbelt and brownfield site
- Ecological restoration (ER) on the greenbelt, and standard restoration on the brownfield site;
- Ecological restoration of both the greenbelt and brownfield site (ER+).
Ecological data was collected for both sites and the ESII Tool was applied to each alternative design. Project managers, engineers, and experts in ecology and restoration used the ESII Tool outputs to further refine the designs to enhance specific ecosystem services: noise reduction, visual aesthetics, water filtration (removal of sediments), water nitrogen removal, and water quantity control.
The ESII Tool outputs showed:
- Standard brownfield restoration would result in lower performance for a majority of ecosystem services than under baseline or ecological restoration.
- Ecological restoration of both the greenbelt and brownfield site (ER+) would result in higher performance for all priority ecosystem services, except for water filtration, than under baseline or standard brownfield restoration (Fig. 2, Table 1).
The ER+ alternative would save Dow an estimated $2 million in operating & maintenance costs (mowing, fencing, etc.) over a ten-year time frame and provide numerous ecosystem services to the surrounding community (e.g., open space, improved aesthetics and storm water management) through the restoration of pre-settlement beech-maple forest, prairie, and wetlands. As of December 2015, Dow plans to implement the ecological restoration design for its parcel and will share the results of this analysis with the city of Midland to support the city’s planning efforts.