Local Student Scientists’ Findings Show Positive Environmental Impacts from Bridge Construction
A group of local student-scientists from Pensacola’s Booker T. Washington High School are studying the environmental impacts of the Pensacola Bay Bridge construction project. The students are part of the school’s Marine Science Academy, an intensive program that combines college-level oceanography and marine course work with field and laboratory research.
“Our student-scientists are studying four local test sites, including Project GreenShores, the multimillion dollar habitat restoration and creation project along the urban shoreline of the bay,” said Marine Science Academy Director, Edward Bauer. “The location is within sight of the new bridge.”
Marine Science Academy students are analyzing the diversity and abundance of nearshore species at the site, which includes measuring and assessing physical properties of the water such as temperature, turbidity, salinity, PH levels and dissolved oxygen. These properties provide an indication of water quality and the overall health of the bay.
“We were hoping to continue the research at the Project GreenShores site while the bridge is under construction,” said Bauer. “Our goal was to determine how the construction activities might impact the restoration area. The Florida Department of Transportation is cooperating by providing both the needed access and expertise of their professionals.”
Early findings indicate conditions have improved since construction began. Invasive, nuisance and non-native plant species are being removed from the shoreline. In addition, FDOT is replacing the old construction debris that was previously used to stabilize the shoreline with “rip rap” that consists of crushed granite stone. Stabilizing the shoreline will help protect the bridge and its approach from the impacts of erosion that often accompany a major storm.
“Results from our spring 2018 sampling were the best in three years,” said Bauer. “They show an increase in the abundance of fish and nearshore species, and turbidity levels that are within normal ranges.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) concurs with the academy’s findings.
“We haven’t noticed any impacts to the marine habitat or environment near Project GreenShores,” reports Beth Fugate, the FDEP’s manager of the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves. “The shoreline stabilization work (installation of rip rap) along this portion of the project will only have temporary impacts during construction and won’t change the ecosystem long-term.”
These findings are good news for the Pensacola Bay Bridge construction team, which has exhibited a commitment to environmental stewardship from the earliest days of the project.
Bill Klepac is a senior engineer for the bridge’s construction engineering and inspection group. He has worked with the Marine Science Academy students and says before construction began the design-build contractor went the extra mile in safeguarding the environment.
“They assessed the emergent vegetation along both the Pensacola and Gulf Breeze shorelines and documented the pre-construction conditions of the wetland areas,” said Klepac. “The assessment wasn’t required, but they felt it was needed to protect the shoreline, maintain the wetland areas, and ensure that when the project is completed everything is restored to the pre-construction condition, or better.”
Bridge construction is expected to continue until mid-2020. The construction team will facilitate the work of the Marine Science Academy for the duration of the project.
For more information on the Booker T. Washington High School Marine Science Academy, you may visit: http://whs-ecsd-fl.schoolloop.com/MarineScienceAcademy