There can be nearly instant gratification in a shoreline erosion project – encouraging a living seawall and growth of submerged underwater vegetation. “You might not see a customer get starry-eyed over the picture on paper, but when they see it go into the ground and find out how much of a positive impact it makes, they are amazed and we solved their problem,” says Lucas Lees, head of coastal and environmental design for Unity Landscaping in Church Hill, Maryland, along the state’s eastern shore.
“And, once the project is fully grown or established, we hear back from clients who say, ‘My kids are playing by the water and there are baby fish, crabs, turtles and ducks,’” Lees says. “Within a year, wildlife can move back in and it shows how we can restore the shoreline.”
Education is the key to selling and executing shoreline restoration projects that prevent erosion. “When people are aware of what we are doing and the science behind it, they can wrap their heads around it,” Lees says.
The benefits clients realize from shoreline erosion control and stabilization projects include enhanced views, better shoreline access, a restored wildlife habitat and increased property values, says Bret Huntman, president of North by Nature Landscapes in Petosky, Michigan. “Most of our customers have seen or experienced significant loss of property at the water’s edge,” he says. “They have seen other sea wall and rock installations fail. They are looking for long-term, self-sustaining solutions and most often, naturalizing their shoreline is that solution.”
What does it mean to naturalize a shoreline?
“We believe erosion is best treated by restoring the structure of the shore and respecting the natural beauty of the region,” says Bobbie Burdick, president of Burdick & Associates in Ellsworth, Maine.
In Maine, stable shorelines include exposed bedrock with soil and tree roots. “We use techniques drawn from the principles of bio-engineering to analyze and stabilize eroded slopes,” Burdick says.
Education involves explaining the nature of erosion in the environment. “We discuss the impacts of tides, poor soil, lack of vegetation and other stabilizing materials,” Burdick says.
Ultimately, these erosion-control/restoration projects are “about preserving the shoreline for future generations,” she says.
Frequently, property owners do not realize the importance of shoreline restoration and stabilization, Burdick says. “We are often called to a site for other reasons and discover areas of erosion in our site analysis for the client’s landscape design,” she says. “At that point, we have a discussion about the importance of preserving the Maine shoreline and ways we can support them.”
Shoreline erosion is the result of manipulating lake levels with dams or drainage canals so they are “out of their banks,” Huntman says. “Now, new shorelines are being sculpted by wave and ice action.”
On the Chesapeake Bay, Lees shares how tidal waters interact with the shoreline and the resulting wave energy triggers a much faster type of erosion than raindrops falling on a parking lot, for instance. “There is different type of erosion – some is visible, some is not,” Lees says. “Some erosion is immediate and noticeable, and other erosion occurs miles away from the shoreline.”
If you don’t stop erosion, the wave energy will eventually eat up your water’s edge and can cause property damage. Not to mention, an eroding shoreline is a real hit to the environment and wildlife that takes up residence in these habitats.
Unity Landscaping specializes in creating living shorelines, which is a sustainable alternative to installing vertical, hard seawalls. And, the state essentially requires that property owners use this method, Lees says. “With this method, we are creating habitat, reducing soil and sediment in the Bay and creating a diverse, cool ecosystem that will promote butterflies, fish, crabs and the wildlife that people appreciate here,” he says.
Not all clients care about the environmental benefits. In that case, Lees instead will focus on the cost-effectiveness of a natural approach vs. installing bulkhead or a seawall. “We have a conversation about the fact that the state requires (a natural approach), and it’s a cheaper solution – plus you have an opportunity to gain property,” he says. “So, we emphasize the fact that when they add property, they are also increasing their property value.”
Huntman says the best marketing and sales associate is Mother Nature herself.
“She usually shouts it out loud and clear,” he says. “We are allied with local conservation organizations and lake associations, as well.”
Lees also says that becoming Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional Certified puts his company on the radar with other certified professionals who might refer business to Unity Landscaping. And, he targets areas for erosion control and shoreline restoration that are directly impacted by this issue. “We look at all of the (waterfront) and riverfront areas in nearby counties and consider the threat of erosion,” he says.
Collaborating with federal, state and municipal entities is essential for contractors who perform erosion control and shoreline restoration projects. For example, Lees executes permitting through the Maryland Department of the Environment, which works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“They do the federal and state review of the permits, and they review Department of Natural Resources or the Critical Area Commission, which is a Maryland program that manages anything done within 1,000 feet of tidal waters on the Chesapeake Bay,” he says.
Nine times of out 10, permits are signed off without an issue. “They do listen to us and respond to our feedback,” Lees says.
Huntman says his firm works with municipalities on occasion. “But the vast majority of our clients are private land owners,” he says. “We work with local, state and federal planning and permitting agencies as needed to design and permit our projects.”
Burdick says most of their work is also for residential clients. And, site analysis involves reviewing the vegetation type, quantity and health. “Soils have a direct correlation to the health of the vegetated slopes,” she says.
“We look for ‘slumping’ of soils, for example, as this is an indicator of clay soils and undercutting of the embankment will often occur with this type of soil,” Burdick says. “We also look at the steepness of the slope, severity of wave action (particularly during spring tides) and evaluate a site with historical photos and current aerial photos, as well.”
The cost of restoration.
Addressing the big question clients always want to know (What’s the cost?) requires figuring in expenses related to permitting, installation and maintenance needs, Huntman says. “I advise potential clients to budget at least $210 per linear foot,” he says.
“Actual costs vary according to site conditions, shoreline garden and beach features included with installation, and accessibility to their shoreline.”
Many homes are constructed in ways that restrict access, making it more time-consuming and logistically challenging to get materials to the site, Huntman says.
In some cases, materials can be delivered to the site by water, Lees says. And obviously, the amount of materials impacts pricing, which is why Lees says shoreline restoration projects can range from $250 to $450 per linear foot depending on the scope of the project. “Larger sections of water require more engineered defenses because you have a bigger threat for wave energy and ice,” he explains. “Those factors play into the swelling or deflation of the price.”
Burdick’s firm often does not provide a price for projects until the design is complete. “That said, based on 25 years in the industry, we can provide ballpark estimates based on the size of the project, height and length of the bank, severity of the erosion and so on,” she says.
Burdick Associates provides a bio-engineered approach to shoreline stabilization and obtains contractor estimates with the design in hand, she says.
Perhaps more important than the price of the project is the cost of not executing a shoreline restoration effort when it is needed. “The best education is to discuss the nature of erosion and methods of stabilizing, and sharing photos of your past work,” Burdick says.