June 21, 2007 | General

Editorial: A Seed Grows In Compost

BioCycle June 2007, Vol. 48, No. 6, p. 4
Nora Goldstein

EVERY now and then in one’s career, milestones are achieved. Such a milestone was met last week at a workshop organized by a water quality project team that includes BioCycle. The workshop, “Green Construction From The Ground Up – New Methods for Water and Soil Conservation on Modern Construction Sites,” was held at Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Boston Nature Center (BNC) in Boston. Adjacent to the BNC’s property is Olmsted Green, a mixed-use residential development that is under construction. Several years ago, a group of us applied for a Section 319 water quality grant through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to demonstrate use of compost-based Best Management Practices for storm water management at an active construction site – in our case, the Olmsted Green development. Last week’s workshop was the first training and demonstration session.
Our project team includes Bruce Fulford, City Soil & Greenhouse Company, Robert Spencer, BioCycle Contributing Editor, Stephanie Wilsen, Patriot Resource Conservation & Development (Patriot RC&D) Area Council (the grantee), myself and New Ecology, Inc., a nonprofit organization and green building consultant to the Olmsted Green development.
Site clearing for Olmsted Green got underway last fall. Groundscapes Express won the bid to install its compost/mulch-filled “filter mitts” around the construction site perimeter in place of hay bales and silt fence. For the workshop, demonstration plots were set up with side-by-side comparisons of compost blankets (seeded and unseeded) versus bare, native soil and hydroseed, and a strip of compost-amended soil (without a blanket). Filter socks are placed around the perimeter of one plot; the base of the slope has silt fence and hay bales installed in one section.
In the spring of 2005, while working on the grant proposal, we met with the storm water engineering firm (VHB Engineering) hired by Lena/New Boston, the Olmsted Green developers. We presented a slide show on compost-based BMPs. VHB agreed, along with Lena/New Boston, to be partners in the 319 grant proposal. It is fair to say they had little to no field experience with compost filter socks or related BMPs.
Fast-forward to last week’s workshop for civil engineers, general contractors and subcontractors, local permitting authorities and other stakeholders. Of the 55 or so people registered, we recognized only a few names, which meant we had definitely attracted the “unconverted.” That in and of itself was a milestone. Workshop panel members included key stakeholders in the Olmsted Green development – Bill Gagnon of Callahan, Inc., a construction contractor; Lisa Davis, New Boston Development; and Bethany Eisenberg, VHB Engineering. All were very positive about using the compost filter socks as a silt fence/hay bale replacement – the only compost-based BMP used to date on the construction site. The clincher was Gagnon’s comment when he said that 18 months ago, he was less than thrilled with the prospect of using the “silt socks,” mostly because he had no idea what they were or why he would want to use them. Today, however, he is thrilled. Labor costs were cut by 50 to 60 percent and maintenance has been minimal. And not having to disturb the soil is just an added bonus.
A number of “seeds were planted” as a result of last week’s workshop, and were fertilized by the tour of the demonstration plots, which had been hammered the day before by an inch of rain and still looked very good. Bruce Fulford picked up a handful of the seeded compost blanket that had been installed five days before. Seeds were germinating, a fitting tribute to this milestone of the power of compost to perform – and convert the unconverted.

Sign up