California Wetlands Protection Facing Modern Challenges

March 1, 2006
Most tourists do not notice the marsh along the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Barbara County, CA. From the outside, it often looks like any other muddy field, but visitors who stop learn quickly that the Carpinteria Salt Marsh is full of life and offers one of the last thriving examples of a rare ecosystem. “The Carpinteria Salt Marsh is one of the largest remaining intact salt marshes in California. It supports many rare and endangered plants and animals,” says Jim Mazza, the conservation director of The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.
PHOTO: CRANE MATERIALS INTERNATIONAL The 230-acre marsh is one of the only places in the state where land and ocean meet, creating unique conditions for native wetland species. However, life in the Carpinteria Salt Marsh has been threatened. For decades, the construction of highways and homes has cut into the marsh and severely altered the ecosystem. “Over the years there was sediment brought into the marsh that has had a lot of negative impact and allowed non-native plant species to invade the area,” says Mazza.The Land Trust and Santa Barbara County are working together to restore the Carpinteria Salt Marsh by removing non-native plants and dredging channels that are filled with sediment or cut off by roads. Opening the channels will increase tidal flow into the salt marsh, which is crucial to many of the plants and animals that live in the wetlands. However, the area is also home to nearly 40 families, so it was important to implement a plan that also protects the properties from flooding. “We want to restore the wetlands,” says Mazza. “But we must also keep the human community safe and happy.”
The county decided to build a 2,010-foot-long flood containment wall, creating a divide between the road and private homes and the marsh. County engineers first considered constructing a conventional concrete floodwall, but decided it was expensive and offered few benefits. While evaluating the alternatives, they realized they would be best served by GeoGuard UltraComposite sheet piling, an exclusive product from Crane Materials International (CMI).
PHOTO: CRANE MATERIALS INTERNATIONAL GeoGuard UltraComposite sheet piling is made from fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP). FRP is used in everything from spacecrafts to bulkheads. It is a high-performance, corrosion-resistant product that has created a lot of excitement in the marine construction industry because of its durability and versatility. Santa Barbara County engineers were especially impressed by GeoGuard UltraComposite’s high strength-to-weight ratio. “We went with GeoGuard because it had the smallest footprint of any of the options that are out there. For environmental reasons we needed the sheets to be a thin as possible but strong enough to hold back floodwaters,” says county engineer Rob Tyzer. “This wall is going to be very strong and resistant to corrosion, but only about a foot thick. The county, Land Trust, and residents are all very happy with the plan.” Foundation Pile Inc. began installing 1,400 GeoGuard UltraComposite sheets in the Carpinteria Salt Marsh in December 2004 and finished the job by the end of February 2005. Onsite crews report that the work went well. Michael Yates, lead engineer at CMI, says he knew Foundation Pile Inc. would be happy with the product. “Extensive testing proves GeoGuard UltraComposite is the strongest FRP sheet piling in the world,” says Yeats. “We say this with confidence because the truth is in the numbers. We have the longest and most successful performance record of any fiber reinforcement system in the industry.” CMI creates GeoGuard UltraComposite sheet piling in an ISO (International Organization for Standardization)-certified facility to ensure consistent, high-quality products. The pilings have been installed across the country, providing long-term solutions for shorefront erosion, soil reinforcement, and flooding. The US Army Corps of Engineers is among the many organizations praising GeoGuard UltraComposite’s durability and effectiveness.However, not all FRP manufacturers adhere to strict ISO standards, and quality can vary greatly between product lines. Jeff Redman, Foundation Pile’s sales manager, looked at many manufacturers before making his final selection. He says CMI quickly stood out from the competition. “We felt very confident in CMI’s proven track record of providing great products,” says Redman. “I’ve had a very good experience dealing with CMI. They gave me all of the facts I needed and then bent over backwards to make the delivery. They’re constantly on the phone helping us out with different issues. I would definitely go back to them.” Restoring the salt marsh is a $3.5 million project funded by federal, state, and local grants and numerous private donations. When it is complete, the native wetlands will once again provide a place for endangered wildlife to thrive. The sheet piling is helping restore harmony to the area by allowing vital tides to wash into the marsh without flooding nearby homes. “The neighboring private property owners understand the value and magnitude of saving the marsh, but they also want to make sure their homes are safe,” Mazza says. “This provides the best of both worlds and makes everyone happy.”