Dynamic Duo: Barrie Cogburn and Scott McCoy, TxDOT and TCEQ
BioCycle July 2019
The single largest user of compost in the U.S. is not some organic farm in the Central Valley of California — it is the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Since 2002, TxDOT has used between 200,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of compost each year for new road construction to stabilize banks, limit (eliminate) erosion, and establish >70 percent native perennial vegetation. As part of this process, standards for the compost have been developed that assure product quality and outline how to properly use the material — further assurances of success. Two people are responsible for this massive accomplishment, one that has been copied in several states with a potential to go nationwide. Barrie Cogburn was a landscape architect at TxDOT. Scott McCoy was a soil scientist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
At TCEQ, McCoy worked with the dairy industry and compost. There had been efforts to stop cities from landfilling organics but no markets for the finished product. McCoy was giving workshops around the state on the benefits of compost and Cogburn attended one of these workshops. She saw the potential. At first, TxDOT engineers were skeptical but desperate enough to try anything — even a crazy idea like compost. Working with an EPA grant and plenty of charm (I can personally attest to the power of Barrie Cogburn’s smile and grace), the pair went around the state and set up tests. They worked as a team, with Cogburn leveraging her contacts within TxDOT and McCoy working to assure availability of compost. This dynamic duo understood early on that they couldn’t afford failures due to bad product. Hence the development of rigorous standards by 1998. By 2000, 500 cubic yards of compost had been used on highways. By 2010, over 3 million yards were used. Building demand and product side by side, the pair revolutionized both the composting industry and standard practices at TxDOT.
Talk about a beautiful friendship.
— Sally Brown, University of Washington