Controlling Erosion at Douglas Park

Nov. 1, 2005

The project is a massive one-one that will eventually transform 261 acres formerly devoted to the building of military and commercial aircraft into a mixed-use site filled with hotels, residences, retail stores, and office buildings.

Not surprisingly, this huge project in southern California has involved some gigantic construction-industry names. Aerospace giant Boeing owns the land and the former aircraft facilities. Its real estate arm, Boeing Realty Corp., is handling the redevelopment. Long Beach-based Earth Tech, an engineering firm with 150 offices and more than 7,500 employees, is the project’s main contractor.

But despite being dominated by these big names, the Douglas Park project-as the redevelopment project straddling the southern California cities of Long Beach and Lakewood is known-also features a big contribution from a lesser-known source: Superior Sandbag Systems, a small erosion control firm based in Orange County, CA.

The owners of Superior Sandbag Systems, Steve Villa and Steve Williams, in 1997 invented and in 2000 received a US patent for a process that produces continuous seamless sandbags, which are available exclusively through So Cal Sandbags in Corona, CA. The bags differ from traditional sandbags in their length and flexibility, allowing contractors to seal off larger areas for erosion control purposes. Because the bags are heavier than their traditional counterparts, they can withstand larger amounts of water flow without washing away. When officials at Earth Tech back in 2001 studied the Douglas Park project, they decided that these sandbags would be ideal for the massive development’s erosion control needs.

Construction crews have moved tons of dirt during the demolition of the former aircraft facilities. The potential for erosion problems has been large. And because of the sheer size of the project, ordinary sandbags were not a good fit. Superior Sandbag Systems’ continuous sandbags are large, with some of them able to stretch 250 feet at a time, and they’re heavier than traditional bags, allowing them to provide better protection.

So far, Superior Sandbag Systems has provided nearly 4 miles’ worth of its continuous sandbags for the Douglas Park project, and Villa has estimated that his firm will be providing enough to cover 12,000 additional feet. Officials overseeing the project are pleased with the results.

“The continuous sandbags have been a great fit for this project,” says Larry Szatkowski, construction administrator for Boeing Realty Corp. “We’ve been able to contain any erosion we might have had, and this is a big project. We’ve also been able to slow the flow of water down enough for the silt to settle out as it eventually filters through the sandbags. The water that has been discharged from the site has been clean.”

A Massive Project
Boeing Realty Corp. began demolishing the aircraft-production facilities on the 261-acre site in September 2001. The site itself is about three-quarters of a mile square. About 238 acres of the site lie within Long Beach and the remaining 23 in the city of Lakewood.

The redevelopment plan for the land calls for up to 3.3 million square feet of commercial and office space, as much as 200,000 square feet of retail space, and up to 1,500 residential units. The redevelopment also will include as many as 400 hotel rooms and more than 11 acres of public parks. All this will replace 5 million square feet of facilities formerly devoted to building military and commercial aircraft. Current plans call for the final build-out of the project by 2020.

The project’s size, of course, makes it an unusual challenge for contractors. But so does its location. The site sits just north of Long Beach Municipal Airport, and government officials were concerned about water and dirt from the construction hitting the facility. Controlling erosion, then, was a priority.

“That was one of the reasons that Earth Tech contracted with us to do the erosion control work,” says Villa. “Everyone was concerned about some of the old materials on the project site. They didn’t want pollution from the redevelopment carrying over into the airport. Earth Tech wanted a total containment of all that. They didn’t want anything to leave the site.”

Though the site was largely flat, the possibility of erosion problems still existed. Before demolition began, the chunk of earth had been fully developed as a manufacturing plant. It had very little exposed soil save for some grass in front of the complex’s main office. That changed suddenly, though, after demolition began.

“Before, that site was mostly roofs and pavement,” comments Boeing’s Szatkowski. “But as the buildings were demolished, debris removed, and the utilities extracted, it soon became the county’s biggest dirt spot.”

Mike O’Keefe, superintendent with Earth Tech, says the continuous sandbags have been a huge help in containing water flow on the site. The company has stacked many of the long sandbags into a 3-2-1 configuration-three sandbags on a bottom level, two stacked atop them, and one stacked at the very top-to form barriers that prevent water from discharging from the site.

“These sandbags don’t wash out on you, so they were the natural choice for us,” O’Keefe says. “Especially if you use them in a 3-2-1 configuration, you really don’t ever have to worry about them washing out on you. With regular sandbags, you put some water weight behind them and they wash right away.”

Villa says his company has used a number of sandbag configurations on the project. Workers have spread most of them around the site’s perimeter. But they have also used the continuous bags to completely circle drain inlets and for long sweeping chevrons on the property.

Demolition work on the project is moving along at a good clip. Szatkowski says that as of early 2005 only three of the site’s former production buildings still awaited demolition. Of course, crews still had to do much of the groundwork, and the future development of the site with retail centers and residential buildings will run for decades.

Villa, though, is thrilled that his company has participated in such a high-profile project. A moveable sectionalized version of the bags has been field tested and will be available this year.

“This was the perfect project for our bags. Because it is such a big project, and such an important one, my partner and I truly wanted to do a good job. We were concerned about that. But really there weren’t any special challenges to our bags from this project. This project, in fact, was ideal for what our bags can do.”

About the Author

Dan Rafter

Dan Rafter is a technical writer and frequent contributor.