Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Billion Dollar Ghost Town

To close our theme of communications about Big Projects, we take a cue from the season – Halloween. Name a better Big Project befitting the day than this — a “Billion Dollar Ghost Town.”

Talk about a fright! If you come to this planned city – sporting homes, businesses, streets and utilities – you won’t find anybody living there. It will be as if the entire population had disappeared. Eaten by zombies, perhaps? Snatched by aliens?

Credit: High Desert Drifters

But don’t call a zombie hunter or Steven Spielberg just yet. This Big Project, planned for New Mexico, is actually people-less on purpose. At a cost of about $1 billion, the small city is being built solely to test new innovations. And people, well, they would actually be a liability to the concept. The media has dubbed it, “A Billion Dollar Ghost Town.”  And we talked to the person behind it, Robert Brumley.

Many Big Projects command attention and dazzle us. Think Empire State Building. Some are major roads or bridges helping us get from Point A to Point B. Others are stadiums or arenas or concert halls, where we cheer our favorite team or musician.

As a “ghost town,” today’s Big Project is the complete opposite. It will be built in a desolate area and be devoid of people except for scientists, innovators and dreamers who will test their latest concepts to see if they are actually applicable.

“There’s nothing else like this in scale or scope in the world,” said Brumley, the Senior Managing Director of Pegasus Global Holdings, an international technology development firm.

The idea was born out of frustration, he said. There was simply no place to test new innovations in a real-world environment. Labs are too sterile, he said. What works there very well not work in a real city, where all sorts of interferences – radio signals, building materials, cell phone towers – could impact a new device. Brumley said he heard all sort of “war stories” about new technology working just fine in a lab setting but failing when applied elsewhere. “You don’t get the same result.”

Credit: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

So the big idea for this Big Project was hatched.

And when he began floating the concept, people immediately got it, he said. The communication part wasn’t difficult. People have grown so tech-savvy that they understand that this concept – which may have not been recognized as a need 20 years ago – makes perfect sense today. Yes, sure, a city without people. A city to test things we don’t have, but will need in the future.

The project also got a boost from an Associate Press story thanks to the title, “A Billion Dollar Ghost Town,” Brumley said. That headline – and the natural draw of such an intriguing project – helped the story and this Big Project go viral, he said.

The city will actually be called the Center for Innovation, Testing And Evaluation (CITE). Based on the actual city of Rock Hill, South Carolina, it will have all the trappings: streets, homes, offices, running water, electricity…

Credit: World Architecture News

“It’s not a smart city, it’s a dumb city,” Brumley quipped, meaning it will offer the same hurdles as any other American city, which were built years and years ago and don’t necessarily conform to the latest technological advances. But very smart people will try to work their magic there. For instance, there’s really no safe place to test driverless cars, Brumley noted. (Think driving the 101 up the Pacific coastline in a driverless car!) But this city will be the perfect place for such experimentation.

Credit: Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation

Brumley’s customers – innovators – need a site to test products, he says. His company has identified six customer bases: federal labs and agencies, universities and research centers, commercial industry, non-profits and resources distributors. This leads to its future location – New Mexico. It’s a state that happens to lead the nation in federally funded research. The Los Alamos National Laboratory is based there, for instance. But the state is 49th in commercialization, Brumley noted, so it needs such projects. Selling the idea of the project to the state was not difficult, given those factors. So, messaging focused on jobs. The project is expected to create 350 jobs as well as attract all sorts of supporting businesses that will create thousands more, Brumley said. Technical centers are booms to communities, he said, because they bring smart, innovative and progressive thinkers.

The project was hailed statewide, too. Governor Susana Martinez called it “one of the most exclusive and innovative” economic development projects the state has witnessed. Indeed, the initial site for the project was near a town called Hobbs. As reported on the mayor, Sam Cobb, celebrated the news.

Credit: The Historical Society of New Mexico and the Office of the State Historian

But Big Projects have Big Challenges. For this one, the land deal couldn’t be finalized, Brumley said. That’s led to some doubt whether the project will actually be realized, but Brumley said another site is being secured. He hopes to break ground soon.

And his advice to other innovators? “Don’t let people tell you that something can’t be done. If you know in your gut that it can be done, then do it.”

In short, don’t be scared…even if it is Halloween.

Thank you Mr. Brumley for your insight on your Big Project. Here’s hoping the concept makes future innovations market-ready earlier. And that the Billion Dollar Ghost Town stays clear of tumbleweeds!

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Big Project times two

Big Projects, by their nature, bring Big Challenges, from acquiring the funding to getting an armful of necessary governmental approvals to fending off often-arising legal challenges.

Now imagine those challenges if two nations happen to be involved in a Big Project. There may be two different sets of standards when it comes to planning, engineering and construction. Each nation has its own overseeing agencies, of course. So who’s in charge?

Credit: Earth Rangers Wild Wire Blog

Credit: flickr user Eridony

Then there are other complications. The currencies are different. The languages may be different. The political systems might even clash in philosophy or set-up. The standards may be different – do they use inches and feet or centimeters and meters, do they use AutoCAD or MicroStation or another program to generate their plan sets? And how is a communications and outreach plan devised when two nations are involved? Does each one do its own communication? If so, how is the messaging kept consistent?

Credit: UM Physics Demonstrations

But sometimes the need outweighs the challenges, and that’s the case with the Detroit River International Crossing, a bridge project that involves a partnership between the U.S. and Canada. It’s to connect Detroit to Windsor.

A new bridge is considered key to meet future growing trade demands between the two nations. If no new bridge is built and congestion at border crossings worsens as many as 100,000 jobs could be lost by 2035, according to an economic study of the project. Creating a Big Project is a big feat, but sharing one makes it bigger in every way.

So the nations – and the two regions – have been working together to make it a reality. They formed what become known as the bi-national Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) Study, which was made-up of experts from both nations.

Such collaboration is vital in a world that is as interconnected as ours is. And although borders are highly congested, they are also in many ways reduced to lines on a map and don’t represent how interdependent nations – and the people who live in neighboring communities – are. Take this project between five southern African nations, for example. They are teaming up to make a wildlife preserve that crosses all of their borders.

San Diego borders Mexico and its burgeoning city of Tijuana. Opportunity for collaboration is an ongoing effort as combined the two metropolis’ are home to more than 5 million people – over 3 million in the San Diego region and nearly 2 million in metropolitan Tijuana.  The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has a Border Committee, which works on a number of projects to improve transportation and foster economic development with our neighbor to the south.

Credit: Medical Tourism Corporation

The Detroit River International Crossing is becoming closer to a reality. In June, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, announced that an agreement between the parties had been reached.  This followed an Economic Assessment study done by Detroit River International Crossing team.

Credit: CBS Detroit

Today, we hear from Heather Grondin of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, which played a significant role in the process. We welcome her thoughts on the challenges and strategies involved in a Big Project between two nations.

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As a bi-national study project coordination and communications on the Detroit River International Crossing Study must have been challenging beginning with developing cross border partners. How was that bi-national engagement developed between the agencies?
The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study was conducted by the members of the Canada-U.S.-Ontario-Michigan Border Transportation Partnership (BTP). The BTP includes the transportation authorities from two federal governments and two provincial/state governments. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Transport Canada (TC) is the corresponding federal level agency in Canada. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) are the provincial and state agencies that have roadway jurisdiction on each side of the border between Ontario and Michigan.

An objective of the BTP was to develop an appropriate coordinated environmental planning process that incorporated the requirements of the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act (OEAA), Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes as well as any other applicable Ontario, Canadian and U.S. legislation.

Further to this, it was the goal to conduct essentially one body of work pertaining to alternative generation, analysis and evaluation, and to document the project findings in format(s) suitable for circulation and review by government agencies, ministries, and departments and the general public.

This coordinated process was agreed to in the terms of reference which can be found here.

The Detroit River. The Ambassador Bridge currently links Detroit, Michigan, to Windsor, Ontario.
(Credit: The Detroit Free Press)

What were some of the unique challenges of a project that touches two countries? How did your agency overcome these unique challenges?
Coordination was important amongst the partners. Monthly meetings involving all the project partners were held face-to-face in Windsor or Detroit. Each team reported to one other on events and public consultation, with the consultants for both teams in constant contact. Within MTO, a dedicated project team was created called Windsor Border Initiatives Implementation Group (or WindsorBIIG) consisting of policy, project delivery, communications and planning teams.

Three hundred separate consultation sessions with thousands of people resulted in an unprecedented consultation effort allowing opportunities to share and refine project team  analysis of the options and related implications of a preferred alternative.

The project attracted almost daily media coverage, particularly in local media. The approach to media relations was responsive with a focus on the dissemination of fact-based information to conveyed the results of analysis. A variety of approaches were used to reach target audiences.

The study schedule was complex but adhering to it was important. Problem solving became another important attribute of the study team.

A project of this scope, if approached traditionally, would have required a commitment of 10 years to complete the environmental assessment phase alone. There were experienced observers who believed the complexity of the task, reconciling the requirements of four jurisdictions across international boundaries to arrive at a single transportation solution would be difficult to achieve within the short four-year schedule.

An example of coordinated bi-national efforts is the foundations investigations that were required on both sides of the border. A news release and backgrounder on this work are available.

Credit: isg transportation

Regarding community stakeholders, who were the project stakeholders in Canada?
From the outset of the study, the study team realized that the DRIC project would benefit and have impacts on many stakeholders throughout the Windsor and Essex County area. Therefore, the team set out to develop a consultation framework that would include a wide variety of stakeholders and allow opportunities for meaningful two-way dialogue throughout the project.

As the study evolved, the team consulted with various other interest groups and stakeholders, including community groups, business owners and individual property owners.

Early in the study, Walpole Island First Nation demonstrated a desire to actively participate, and the study team has continued to consult directly with Walpole Island First Nation. All First Nations groups were notified of the DRIC study via a study commencement package and received follow-up phone calls/letters. In addition, mailing notices were also sent to each group prior to Public Information Open Houses and workshops.

Credit: Gathering of the Potawatomi Nations

The combined Canadian and U.S. study teams formulated a bi-national Private Sector Advisory Group and invited owners from many businesses (both in Canada and the U.S.) to participate.

The study team met numerous times with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) throughout the study. CBSA has provided direct input regarding the plaza requirements in terms of size, proximity to the border, capacity, and components. The agency reviewed and commented on alternative layouts and continues to advise on the layout and requirements of the preferred plaza location. To ensure that the plaza alternatives were viable and would operate smoothly, the operations for each practical alternative were simulated under year 2035 traffic conditions using customized simulation software.

The study team has consulted several times with EMS representatives (police, fire, and ambulance) as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Meetings with EMS representatives have helped to shape the location of access opportunities for the practical alternatives and for the preferred alterative. In particular, EMS input has influenced the access ramp locations at the Todd Land/Cabana Road West interchange.

The team asked the RCMP to review the practical alternatives for the plazas and river crossing from a threat security viewpoint. This review was undertaken and concluded that each alternative was viable and could be made secure with no undue threat to safety and security.

For a full list of consultation groups/agencies/stakeholders, and to review the full consultation program, please visit.

What strategies and methods did you use to communicate with and engage them?
The study team had a large outreach to ensure all parties impacted by the project were consulted. Outreach included:

· Public Information Open Houses (PIOHs)
· Workshops
· Context Sensitive Solutions workshops
· Special interest/stakeholder/municipal meetings
· Media briefings/announcements
· Editorial boards
· Letters and mailings
· Information kits
· Display boards
· CDs
· Expert availability
· Newspaper advertisements
· News releases
· Brochures
· Postcards
· Dedicated project website
· Boat/bus tours on both sides of the river
· Computer simulations
· “Myth Buster” documents
· E-mail blasts
· Letters to the Editor
· Easy-to-understand maps
· Municipal presentations/delegations

Credit: The Detroit River International Crossing Study

Because of the large scale of this study did the Ontario Ministry of Transportation use any new or unique tools, such as social media, to help engage the public?
During the DRIC study, from 2005 to 2008, social media did not play a role in public engagement. Many of the above noted tactics were considered unique.

Was each nation responsible for working with their own stakeholders?  Were there ever certain points in the project where there was a need to collaborate efforts between the two nations to gather feedback from stakeholders in both nations?
Throughout the environmental study process, the Partnership coordinated meetings between Canadian and United States federal, state and provincial agencies with common or shared interests so that, as much as possible, a bi-national approach to identifying and addressing issues was developed.

Another key principle of the coordinated process was that, where two or more processes specified different requirements in conducting the study, the Partnership sought to incorporate the most rigorous requirement to the extent possible. However, there were certain requirements that were unique to a particular jurisdiction that needed to be directly incorporated into the corresponding study process.

There were also arranged opportunities where stakeholder/consultation groups from each nation were brought together for joint meetings and tours.

Did public input through the environmental analysis and reporting process leading up to approvals change the project at all? If so, in which ways?
The public had a major role and responsibility in determining the success of a public consultation program. The extent to which the public participated, the issues they raised and how such issues were resolved all influenced the effectiveness of the consultation process.

Since the study initiation, more than 300 consultation sessions were held with thousands of Windsor-Essex residents, community groups, experts, local elected officials and other government agencies. These sessions were integral to the study team’s understanding of impacts and opportunities to minimize them wherever possible. By 2007, interest began to grow in a concept that involved a buffer between the highway and nearby residences. This would require a sizeable amount of property acquisition and the use of tunnelled sections. Further consultations occurred. A concept emerged, through consultation, that would involve a green corridor with tunnelled sections, a grade-separated recreation trail and extensive areas of future green space.

In August 2007, the DRIC study team presented the Parkway alternative for the access road for international traffic. This green corridor would be below grade with a number of tunnels. The concept introduced in 2007 was further improved and in May 2008, the Windsor-Essex Parkway was presented as the technically and environmentally preferred alternative for the Ontario access road connecting to a plaza and river crossing location in west Windsor.

Within the integrated environmental study process, public consultation involved reviewing, commenting and providing input to the technical and environmental work undertaken and to provide input to the public consultation process. The proposed consultation plan encouraged proactive consultation, allowing comments and views of the public to assist in influencing the study and recommendations thereof.

The information received through these consultation activities was considered in the development, analysis and evaluation of alternatives. In some cases, the comments and/or desires of interested stakeholders were not supported by the study team’s analysis and evaluation. However, in many cases the comments reinforced the analysis/evaluation and/or caused the team to adjust its thinking regarding the balance of impacts and benefits of the undertaking.

A summary of consultation impacts can be found in section 3.1 here.

Public participation during the Detroit River International Crossing Study
(Credit: Detroit River International Crossing Study)

Were there any surprises you encountered with the public involvement planning during the Environmental Assessment stage? If so, what were the lessons learned?
Public consultation was an important part of the DRIC study process and as communications extended out into the community to engage the public, the amount of interest grew. Attendance at public meetings increased over the course of the study from a few hundred at the initial outreach sessions in early 2005 to over 1,400 in late 2008.

There were different issues that arose during the study process that required special communications. In 2006, the community pushed for tunnelling, this aspect was added to the options under study for the access road. In 2007, the City of Windsor introduced their own below grade access road option, GreenLink, and conducted a public outreach campaign. In early 2009, air quality became a topic of interest and communications centred around disseminating expert information into language the general public could understand.

The main lesson learned through this endeavour was to make the message easy to understand. The general public may not understand the technical details like airborne particles or construction methods for tunnelling. We also understood the need to have one voice for the entire duration of the study. In response to this, the study lead, Dave Wake from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation handled the bulk of interviews, announcements, and public interaction. At every step of the way, Dave hosted the discussion using approved key messages that were easy to understand. From time to time experts were brought in to discuss the points made and reiterate the key points.

We also understood the need to have all key spokespeople trained in not only delivering media interviews, but also the process of drafting key messages and responses. All senior members of the study team were trained by media experts in how to put together responses that would be easily understood. This training proved useful as team members worked with communications on drafting and approving messages.

What are the next steps for the Detroit River International Crossing and how does the Ontario Ministry of Transportation plan continue to keep the public informed and engaged?
The DRIC study Environmental Assessment Report lays the foundation for the work on the Windsor-Essex Parkway and the plaza and bridge crossing elements on both sides of the border.

During future design phases, commitments made in the EA regarding design works and environmental analysis and impact assessment; development and incorporation of mitigation measures; obtaining of regulatory agency approvals and permits; and consultation with interested and potentially affected stakeholders will be monitored.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation is leading the delivery of the Windsor-Essex Parkway and its communications. Seven Public Information Open Houses have been held in 2011 and 2012 regarding the design and construction of the Parkway. These sessions have been focused on provided information on upcoming work and seeking input from the public. The sessions have been well attended with a great deal of public input.

Social media has now been added as a communications tactic which supports more traditional approaches to communications and the project website. For the announcement of the public sector partner to design, build, finance and maintain the Parkway, an online web cast was organized with the announcement streaming live around the world. This initiative was built upon in August 2011 for the announcement of the start of construction. The announcement was broadcast over the internet with the addition of live tweeting on both the English and French twitter feeds for the Parkway.

Social media sites were set up in late 2010 to include YouTube and Flickr to post project photos and videos. Since the start of these sites, more  than 15,000 views of videos and 105,000 views of photos have been logged. The sites feature not just announcement and special event videos and photos but also provide an opportunity for community education on construction techniques, design, and on the ground access behind the construction fence. Aerial photos are one of the most popular aspects of the Flickr page and after the August 2012 posting of photos, more than 800 views were logged in the first hour alone.

Twitter has proven to be a very effective tool in disseminating real time traffic impacts. Road closures and lane impacts are posted almost daily on the site and retweeted by local media, local emergency services, and local municipalities.

In summer 2012, the Parkway team launched a Facebook page which links to Twitter for individuals who do not have, nor wish to start up a Twitter feed but still wish to receive real time information.

The social media sites have been a great tool in helping us understand what the public may or may not be interested in. We have noticed a large  volume of hits relating to specific aspects of work. For instance, construction videos and aerial photos on YouTube and Flickr respectively have been quite popular. We also try to ensure we are providing opportunities for feedback or questions in our posts to reach out to the public in this manner.

A conceptual rendering of the Windsor-Essex Parkway LaBelle and Spring Garden
Tunnel Top
(Credit: The Windsor-Essex Parkway)

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Thank you Ms. Grondin for you time and insight on such a complicated yet successful collaboration between two nations. It’s great to have such a friendly and helpful neighbor to the north!

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Protecting the Big Easy Takes a Big Project

Not all Big Projects are stunning, captivating marvels that we see. Some are rather non-descript, nearly invisible, yet they carry big responsibility.

Take the Big Easy – New Orleans. Here, one of these non-descript, nearly invisible Big Projects is all but completed. The duty of this project is to reduce risk for one of our nation’s most unique cities from devastating floods. And we all know why there was such an urgency to this Big Project. To this day, one word – and, ironically, a lovely name actually – still haunts that city: Katrina.

(Credit: Think Positive! Magazine)

A hurricane by that name flooded the city in 2005, causing more than 1,400 deaths in the Gulf Region and leveling countless homes and businesses. To this day, New Orleans and the surrounding region are still recovering from its effects.

But this Big Project is designed to prevent another Katrina-like disaster from happening again. It can’t prevent the hurricane, but it can prevent the damage a hurricane of that proportion causes. It’s called the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS).

Not a lovely name. Not an eye-opening tourist attraction. (The French Quarter won’t lose a dime of business to it.) But the HSDRRS – it’s equally non-lovely acronym – is a complex system of levees, floodgates and pump stations that has the all-important job of reducing risk to this one-of-a-kind American city from another massive hurricane.

HSDRRS’ price tag to build –  $14.6 billion dollars. Yet its value is hard to quantify. New Orleans lost half of its population to Katrina. The hurricane was the costliest natural disaster in the nation’s history. The Bush administration spent $105 billion on reconstruction. What’s the value to place on losing the Big Easy…potentially forever…to the country’s identity and creative spirit? The new hurricane  system is replacing the former one, which failed during Katrina. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built both the former and the most recent one.

New Orleans is not alone in needing a Big Project to prevent a natural disaster of this type. In the Netherlands, an improved levee system was fast-tracked in response to a flooding in 1953 that killed 1,800 people. The resulting infrastructure, the North Sea Protective Works, was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The new system in New Orleans goes well beyond the previous one and is being built to withstand a 100-year storm, which has a 1 percent chance of happening in a year.

The system was recently put to test when Hurricane Isaac, crawled through New Orleans. It succeeded. Isaac was a category 1 hurricane. Katrina hit New Orleans as a category 3 hurricane.

Today, we hear from René Poché, a public affairs official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, who explains to us the intensive outreach effort that went along with construction of the HSDRRS.

It was quite the challenge. An anxious population needed to be convinced that the new project would do what the old one failed to do: defend their city from future devastation.

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After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina how did the Army Corps of Engineers form the plan for the Hurricane & Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS)? Where do you start on such a daunting task?
After Hurricane Katrina, firm Administration commitment and quick Congressional action enabled the Corps to advance this major investment in public safety and hurricane and storm damage risk reduction. The development, methodology and execution of the HSDRRS have applicability Corps-wide and shows what the Corps can do with full federal funding.

We relied on our non-federal partners to assist with real estate acquisition and on extensive collaboration with the general public. The effort by this team of federal, state, local governments, levee authorities, levee boards, academia, industry, peer reviewers, stakeholders and many more were vital to its completion.

The flooded 9th Ward area of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
(Credit: The New Orleans Times-Picayune)

The HSDRRS is extraordinary and intricate. What type of planning goes into designing and constructing such a complex system? Who were the team members and stakeholders involved?
The Corps could not have achieved the successful delivery of the system alone.  Many of these projects had never been constructed before and required out-of-the-box thinking and construction methods.  The use of the design-build method and early contractor involvement were critical in the construction of the HSDRRS.

The accomplishments of this team of federal, state, local governments, levee authorities, levee boards, academia, industry and many more is historic and unparalleled.

Can you explain the 100-year storm criteria that the HSDRRS has to meet?
A one-hundred-year flood is calculated to be the level of flood water expected to be equaled or exceeded every 100 years on average. The 100-year flood is more accurately referred to as the 1% annual exceedance probability flood, since it is a flood that has a 1% chance of being equaled or exceeded in any single year.

What a 100 year storm looks like

The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) Surge Barrier is one of the largest storm surge barriers of its kind in the world and the Army Corps of Engineer’s largest civil works design build construction project. Can you tell us more about the unique functions of this feature?
This is one of the largest surge barriers in the world. It is nearly two miles long and is a state-of-the-art Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier Project at Lake Borgne. It includes a concrete pile-supported wall across the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and three gated structures. As the Corps’ largest-ever Design-Build civil works construction contract, it will reduce risk to the Ninth Ward, Gentilly, New Orleans East, Orleans Metro and St. Bernard parishes. The overall project is now 98% complete.

The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock
(Credit: flickr user cmh2315fl)

The HSDRRS followed the NEPA process, which has specific requirements for public involvement. How was the public kept informed and how was their input collected and used on this project?
The Corps and its partners are at the forefront of all communications. We continue to coordinate and plan in concert with our stakeholders and partners. To date, more than 500 engagements have been held to inform/educate the public.  All comments oral and written became part of the record of every public engagement and all were given equal consideration.  Many comments did help us in refining the final projects.

Just seven years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was tested again as Hurricane Isaac moved though it this past August. How effective was the HSDRRS in protecting the city?
The Corps successfully operated the HSDRRS during Hurricane Isaac. It was the first real test of the system since construction was completed, and the system performed as designed.

A lot of public trust was lost after Hurricane Katrina. With the HSDRRS in place the area now has better protection then any time in history. Has public opinion changed with the construction of the HSDRRS?
Yes, public opinion has changed because we made the commitment to be open and transparent with our communications throughout construction of the system. But, public trust is something we continue to work on each day as we move to completion of the system. The adage “actions speak louder than words” has gone a long way to rebuild that trust.

A public meeting held by Team New Orleans, United States Army Corps of Engineers
(Credit: Team New Orleans, United States Army Corps of Engineers)

Has public involvement helped to re-build public trust? Is there still more work to do?
Let’s answer the second question first; there will always be work to do to effectively communicate the complexity of the HSDRRS and maintaining public trust never ends either.
Now to the first part, the short answer is yes.  Through our public engagements, we heard, unfiltered, what’s important to the community.  We took that input and applied it as much as possible when designing the system.  Now as we are transitioning back to our more traditional civil works missions, public input is just as vital.

 The Army Corps of Engineers is part of a multi-agency effort to restore the ecosystem and protect the South Louisiana’s coast. Can you explain how ecosystem restoration is also one line of defense against storm surge? How do you communicate this message to the public?
Wetland loss in coastal Louisiana has reached catastrophic proportions and as a result, important national resources are at risk. In recent decades, the coastal erosion rate exceeded 35-40 square miles a year. Due in part to management improvements, education efforts and protection and restoration activities, the annual loss rate has been reduced to approximately 16.5 square miles per year. However, coastal Louisiana is still threatened by sea-level rise, subsidence, (downward shift of the surface) salt-water intrusion, tropical events, hurricanes and human activities.

Protection and restoration of Louisiana’s coastal ecosystems requires collaboration and teamwork amongst local, state and federal agencies, stakeholders and the public.  To that end, the Corps engages our stakeholders, public and non-governmental organizations on a regular basis through meetings and workshops.

The South Louisiana Coast

Are there any special communications and public involvement issues to keep in mind when working with communities after a crisis or natural disaster?
Information is power and helps people make informed decisions. Even after Hurricane Isaac, we continue to engage the public as areas rebuild. In the next few months, we’ll go back to the public with the results of our post-storm modeling. We’ll present that information and solicit community input.  Communications and public involvement are never ending.

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Thank you Mr. Poché for the detailed explanation about the Corps’ effort to defend the city of New Orleans. Here’s hoping that this Big Project lives up to its promise and the city remains an American treasure for years to come.

Mike Stetz,  Senior Writer
Collaborative Service, Inc.

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Big Ideas Come in a Small, New Package

You’re probably familiar with the saying: “Good things come in small packages.” Well, some pretty interesting Big Projects come in those small packages. Although small if considered one by one, collectively they could play a key role in our future sustainability.

Now, when I write the next word, you might think “what’s small about that.” Here it is – wind. More specifically, wind energy. To most of us, wind energy projects aren’t small. They create immediate mental pictures of hundreds upon hundreds of tall turbines stretching across a countryside. Their huge propellers slowly spinning to generate power that is put on a grid and sent off to the multitude of homes and businesses depending on that grid.

Credit: Wind Turbine Zone

But wind energy comes in small packages, too. And for that, the adage of good things in those small packages might just be proven true again. The small-wind industry builds wind systems on building rooftops that help to power that same building. The energy isn’t transported elsewhere down a grid. It’s a big idea with a big name – “Building Integrated Wind Turbine.”

This week we feature one of the more fascinating small-wind projects that was recently unveiled at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City. Boasting 18 wind turbines each at 18.5 feet tall, the system has been billed as the largest rooftop wind farm in the world.

The rooftop wind farm on the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation building developed by
Venger Wind
(Credit: Venger Wind)

This big idea in a small package will produce about enough energy to power seven-average sized homes for a year. This kind of project causes excitement because it shows the promise of small-wind systems as an alternative renewable energy source beyond solar at the site it is powering, even in developed cities. Stretches of open space aren’t needed in this scenario; rooftops provide the field.

Indeed, a lot of potential energy savings could be had. Buildings take up 36 percent of our energy,  And that usage is projected to increase. The small wind systems aren’t limited to commercial buildings. They can be used by homeowners too.

Like all good ideas, there are challenges associated with the small wind systems. For example, many don’t produce the amount of energy that the designers predicted for a number of reasons, a result caused by poor placement of the turbines.  But, the industry is working to overcome those hurdles and escalate the learning curve. Indeed, the industry is set to triple by 2015, according to this report.

One person who is bullish on the small-wind industry is Ken Morgan, the Chairman and CMO of Venger Wind. Venger Wind is responsible for building the wind farm on top of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, which is a Big Project we happily highlight in his interview this week. We welcome his thoughts:

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Venger Wind constructed the largest rooftop wind farm in the nation on the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation building in Oklahoma City. How and why was this location chosen?
The owners of the building made the decision to build a green and sustainable building early on. They immediately liked the system due to the fact that it closely matched their logo which is in the shape of a DNA strand.

The new Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation building
(Credit: FLINTCO Constructive Solutions)

How receptive was the community to this project? What methods of communication did you use to inform the community about the project and its progress?
For security and liability reasons, we have a company marketing policy to not promote projects until they are completed, running successfully and ready for prime-time exposure. So far we have received substantial exposure from this project and it is being very well received specifically from the architecture community whom are very interested in BIWT’s (Building Integrated Wind Turbine.) Most of the exposure we are receiving is coming through the blogosphere, social media and search engine channels.

Medical facilities have critical needs for power and equipment that must be kept at or below specific temperatures. Did you encounter any unique challenges with using wind to power a large-scale medical building?
This project produces a small fraction of Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation total needs and was always intended to be a energy and carbon offset rather than a total solution for the building’s energy consumption. They are very committed to supporting the community in which they operate in and this was a very cool way for them to do this as well as be leaders towards a cleaner future.  It also gives their employees and their stakeholders a means to hold a lot of goodwill and pride for the building within their community.

While wind power has been with us forever – think of the explorers in tall ships sailing the world – using wind in today’s world for modern purposes is still relatively new. How has Venger Wind communicated the benefits of sustainability and renewable energy to the public?
When you visit our website you can find a lot of information on the many different aspects of wind power. There is a tremendous amount of education that needs to be done to make the small wind industry truly viable going forward. We are continuously striving to do this through compelling and easy to understand graphics as well as detailed information on the decision-making processes and how or where the turbines work.  Our sales’ teams are also highly informed and have a deep understanding of how to communicate with people new to the concept.  We have taken many pointers on this process from industry leaders such as Quiet Revolution in the United Kingdom and Southwest Wind Power in the United States. These companies are doing a great job educating people about small wind power and we are doing our best to follow suit. It is very important for Venger Wind to give people accurate and timely information and to help them determine if their location is actually viable for wind power or not.

Credit: Navigation acts

What have you found to be the most persuasive or helpful information to the public, customers, and decision makers choosing to incorporate renewable energy into projects?
Clear and honest customer service is the number one method. We do everything we can to get the right technical and financial information to the customer quickly so they can make highly informed decisions. We want every customer to have a very positive experience when they work with us.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, what have you found to be the least helpful in terms of helping the public, customers and decision makers understand and opt for renewable energy?
There are a lot of fly-by-night garage operations out there that are just looking to make a quick buck on a new and exciting concept. We talk with a lot of people that have been burnt. A prime example is the sales pitch that some people unfortunately receive that any turbine can produce significant energy in low wind speeds. This is simply impossible due to the laws of physics.

Part of the funding for the project came from the Puterbaugh Foundation whose namesake is 20th century coal magnate J.G. Puterbaugh. Do you see their support as a transition from one energy sector to another – a passing of the energy torch?
Petroleum based energy will be a important source of energy for a long time and for the time being the clean energy manufacturing industry can not grow without petroleum based energy sources. For example; the Chinese solar industry could not exist in its current scale without the massive amounts of highly subsidized dirty coal they use to produce the ingots which are made into solar cells. The same goes for carbon fiber, aluminum and steel used in wind turbines. I see the clean energy movement as an addition to a diverse portfolio of energy sources.  The demand and growth for energy moving into the future is staggering, we simply cannot abandon one form of energy for another at this point. I have great hope for solar thermal and wind power and I look forward to the day when a solar thermal plant or a large wind farm can produce solar cells and wind turbines from the ground up. Zero carbon manufacturing will be the Holy Grail for clean tech.

Buildings consume 36 percent of our energy. Have you seen public sector, businesses, and developers who occupy and build some of the largest buildings becoming more eager to make the switch to using wind power and other forms of renewable energy to power their buildings? Is there growing pressure from their communities for these entities to become more sustainable?
This is a high growth, multi-billion dollar industry in the making and it is not necessarily driven by the desire to be clean nor from community pressures. It is now primarily driven by the bottom line. It is simply smart business to be highly efficient, it saves tremendous amounts of money in the long run and businesses need to be sustainable to survive global competition. The idea or philosophy of being green, for the time being, is icing on the cake for marketing and branding departments.  Eventually, being clean and green will be the only way it is done or can be done, a de facto standard way of building that is fully integrated into national and international building codes. When you travel to China you quickly notice that everyone uses LED lights and solar hot water heaters, not because it’s cool but because they are cheaper to operate.

Credit: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

What advice would you share about the unique communication needs of renewable energy projects?
Education is number one.  As an emerging industry, we need to be very smart about how we educate and share information.  This is absolutely essential to success.  Without a highly informed consumer base we won’t see the traction that is needed to build the clean tech business. The information we share needs to be 100% honest as well, we exist in a highly transparent and increasingly connected global society and people can find the truth quickly. People can see right through “greenwashing.”

What’s next for Venger Wind?
First, we are highly focused on building a global customer support infrastructure and world-class dealer network.  Training programs are very important right now as well.  Secondly, we have a ton of technical advancements that we are working on that will increase the efficiency of our turbines and decrease costs. We are also working on community scale micro grid designs for small-island communities, which is a very exciting development.

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Thank you Mr. Morgan for contributing this big idea to our blog’s big project theme. There are many energy challenges facing us, and it’s encouraging to know that solutions – big and small – are in the works.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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World Trade Center – A Vision Coming Back to Life

Big Projects don’t come much bigger than this: The rebuilding of the World Trade Center in New York City. As we all know, what is now being built in Lower Manhattan is much more than brick and mortar. It is the memorial to the lives changed and a representation of moving forward as a community.

The World Trade Center Memorial at night.
(Credit: East County Magazine)

Gianni Longo, the founding principal of ACP Visioning + Planning, played a huge role in this process as his firm coordinated the effort to make certain that New York City area citizens had their voices heard when it came to the redevelopment of the site. Public involvement is vital for all Big Projects, but, in this case, it was paramount. Voices needed to be heard.

For Mr. Longo, New York City is home. He lives a half of a mile from the Twin Towers. On September 11, 2001, he remembers hearing the first of the airliners. It made him pause. He had never heard one fly so low before. He went to his fire escape and saw the second airliner hit.

“I live in this city,” he said. “It wasn’t just a job. It was personal.”

His firm puts people into the very heart of the planning process to make certain their ideas and concepts are incorporated into future developments. His firm has had wide success in helping create award-winning transportation, redevelopment and visionary plans. Mr. Longo led an effort in Chattanooga, Tennessee, called Vision 2000, using this intensive citizen participation method. And it’s credited with bringing in over a billion dollars of investments.

But the World Trade Center project was a whole other challenge. “The ruins were still smoldering when we started,” Mr. Longo said. “The reality of what happened was literally in the air.”  Mr. Longo worked with The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) and created what was called, “Imagine New York – Giving Voice to the People’s Vision.” They went to work soon after the terrorist attack to get input on what future project should be built on the site and how the victims should be memorialized. This story describes the challenges. It reads in part:

“In community-based planning, the affected community is usually defined as those living or working in a given area. But where is the ‘community’ affected by the World Trade Center (WTC) tragedy? The events reverberated through all aspects of the region’s life. Nearly 3,000 people perished, but they were from many states and from over eighty different countries.”

World Trade Center Damage
(Credit: Flickr user PicHunting)

Longo’s firm has done many visionary projects, helping citizens create pathways for brighter futures, but none that contained so much raw emotion as this. Comparisons are futile. “It was very different situation,” he said. “The community was stressed to whole different scale.” The number and diversity of the participants also was daunting. More than 200 civic organizations were involved in the vision, Mr. Longo noted. Family members of the victims participated. So did residents and businesses of Lower Manhattan.

A facilitated group discussion during the Imagine New York visioning process.
(Credit: ACP Visioning + Planning)

The public outreach was to serve two purposes in this case, he noted. One, it was to help people get involved in the planning process. The second one was even more vital and that was to give people the opportunity to heal, he said. Mr. Longo was not concerned that people would be too numb from the attack and be leery of participating. He felt just the opposite would happen. “I knew that the emotional comfort created (by the visionary plan) was going create a response.”

And it did. Oh goodness, it did.

In seven weeks, from March to April 2002, more than 4,000 people participated in Imagine New York. In all, 250 workshops and 25 charrettes were held. The participants came up with 19,000 ideas, which were condensed to 49 vision statements.

Credit: Imagine New York

A website was created as well, attracting visitors from all over the world. The events were publicly scheduled and many were intensely advertised. Naturally, the meetings brought out many emotions. Some people broke down and cried at them, Mr. Longo said. “We were very flexible in the process,” he said, noting that if people got too choked up and couldn’t voice their thoughts, they could write down their ideas. Mr. Longo also noted that meetings could be held on demand if people wanted them. They were held in every venue imaginable, from libraries to community centers. He had 300 trained facilitators at the ready to host them.

The process of creating a vision plan consists of three parts, he said. The first is to listen to the community. The second is to take all of those many ideas and sort them into key themes. The third step is to work again with the community to develop and define recommendations in an all-encompassing summit meeting.

Construction is well underway and much of it is nearing completion. Remarkably, many of the ideas the community came up with during the Imagine New York public involvement process have found their way into the reconstruction of the site. Indeed, the plan has received many accolades, including “The American Vision Award” by the 2003 American Planning Association (APA) National Planning Awards Jury. “The 2003 APA awards jury was impressed by the unique way the Imagine New York project brought together people who would not normally think of themselves as planners in a collective effort to rebuild their community,” APA Executive Director Paul Farmer said at the time.

The project also was named as one of the “Top 25 Planning Stories Worldwide in the past 25 years” by the APA.

Ongoing construction at the World Trade Center site.
(Credit: CBS News)

Mr. Longo, naturally, is proud of the effort. And proud of his fellow New Yorkers. “This process discredits the notion that New Yorkers don’t care, don’t get involved,” he said. “They do.”

We thank him for his careful and thoughtful way to bring about a most meaningful big project for New York and our country.

Mike Stez, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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It’s a Big World After all

Big Projects are happening all over the world. Skyscrapers, wind farms, massive tunnels, megalopolises.

And they are not limited to this time and place, either. People are already dreaming of Big Projects for the future, as well. Want to go into space? It may be an elevator that will get you there;  according to this article, it’s not necessarily science fiction.

Retro advertisement for a Space Elevator
(Credit: LiftPort Group)

As our mega projects interviewees dot their i’s and cross their t’s in their interviews we’ll post next, we wanted to take this moment to see what Big Projects are being built in other parts of the world and what Big Projects we could see years from now. We’re a global society, after all. And other nations are facing the same challenges as we are, such as meeting ever-growing transportation and energy demands. The Millennium Project, for instance, lists 15 global challenges, such as having enough clean water and bringing population growth and resources into balance.

So, yes, the world has a lot on its plate.

But there are Big Projects – either planned on or in the works – that hope to tackle these issues. To meet energy demands and put a dent in climate change, for instance, many nations are diversifying their energy sources. Major solar plants and wind farms are being built all around the world. One effort, called the Desertic Industrial Initiative, calls for the building of a string of wind farms and solar plants across Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Concept of a solar farm in the Sahara Desert

As here in the United States, these efforts – as we found out from our look at the Big Dig, Boston’s massive tunneling project – don’t always go as planned. Indeed, one expert put the rate of failure of the world’s mega projects at 65 percent. Failures include cost over-runs – that was the Big Dig’s biggest flaw, some argue – and longer than expected execution time.

Despite such setbacks, we keep trying. Take the ambitious Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland. At a cost of $10 billion, it will be the longest rail tunnel in the world – 34.5 miles long. It’s due to open in 2016. China is working on a plan to merge nine cities, creating the largest mega-city in the world, with a population of 42 million people. And people still like to build up, up and up. The Gran Torre Santiago is being built in Chili and will be the tallest skyscraper in Latin America. And here are 10 more that skyscrapers that are being built.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel

It seems pretty obvious that mega-projects, despite having their critics, will continue. And some of the Big Projects being conceptualized for tomorrow may put the ones that are currently in progress to shame – if they can be realized. For instance, the idea for a bridge or a tunnel at the Bering Strait, which connects Asia to the U.S., is still being talked about despite the engineering, cost and climate challenges of such a construction effort.

One conceptual design for a bridge across the Bering Strait.

Our imaginations appear pretty much limitless. A Japanese firm, for instance, envisions wrapping a ring of solar panels around the moon, and then transporting the energy it captures back to earth.

So, as you can see, Big Projects remain a vital part of our world. We will continue to explore them later this month on the Collaborative Services’ blog and concentrate on the communications efforts they require.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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