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Staff Accomplishments

Marine scientists share international award for environmentally sensitive dock

November 2004

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Sequim Marine Sciences Laboratory shared in a prestigious international award for their design contributions to the Northwest Maritime Center's environmentally sensitive dock. The dock is designed to foster a vibrant human community above the water, and a healthy nearshore marine community below.

Located in the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, Wash., the dock was one of eight urban waterfront projects worldwide to be honored and was the sole awardee in the category of Environmental Protection and Enhancement. The award was announced by the Waterfront Center on Friday, October 15, 2004. The Waterfront Center's awards program, now in its 18th year, is a juried competition to recognize outstanding urban waterfront projects, plans and citizen efforts.

The PNNL team worked with architects from the Miller/Hull Partnership as the dock's ecological designers. The dock design was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Community-Based Restoration Program and involved more than a dozen stakeholders.

PNNL Project Manager Heida Diefenderfer praised NOAA for its vision in supporting an interdisciplinary design process. "Everyone from architects and engineers to boaters, educators and marine scientists learned from each other. This collaboration was the basis for our success."

The dock was designed to accommodate the educational center, allow for a wide variety of vessels to dock, and support restored eelgrass habitat. "The entire committee shares this award," Diefenderfer noted. "The design process was creative, and it required compromise as well."

Jury Chair Alex Lifschutz, director of Lifschutz Davidson in London, England, called the dock "a $1.5-million experiment - a relatively small undertaking - that has the potential to influence thinking and design elsewhere."

The dock design promotes eelgrass, a key part of a healthy underwater community. Eelgrass creates a habitat and food source for Dungeness crabs, salmon, and other species at various life stages. Pacific herring, for example, deposit their eggs on the slender blades of eelgrass during spawning.

Specifically, the dock design

  • Uses highly reflective metal panels to bounce sunlight into the eelgrass beds below the dock trestle.
  • Lengthens the trestle to 88 meters - moving the large platform at the end with its shading effects into deeper water, where eelgrass cannot grow - and reorients the platform based on shade modeling.
  • Replaces 84 creosote-treated wood piles with 38 steel piles, reducing shade and contaminants.
  • Employs grating in strategic locations to reduce the potential of an abrupt light/dark barrier that would interfere with fish migration.

With this new design and using innovative materials technologies, eelgrass experimentally planted by divers from PNNL's Marine Sciences Laboratory may be able to grow and thrive under the dock. Amy Borde, who coordinated local volunteers to prepare more than 5000 eelgrass shoots donated by the Washington State Department of Transportation, said, "the volunteers were really energetic and interested in our work. We had a wide range of people from high school students to senior citizens. They really made it fun." A monitoring team involving PNNL scientists and local students is tracking the performance of the restored eelgrass.

In addition to reducing the impacts to eelgrass, the dock, which opened in May 2004, serves historic tall ships, sea kayaks, and anything in between. Diefenderfer said, "With educational program vessels berthed at the dock, Port Townsend's residents and visitors will be able to learn about maritime history and the marine environment. Hopefully, the dock will serve as a prototype for balancing coastal development with the restoration of ecological processes along the shore."

In describing the Northwest Maritime Center's award, Lifschutz said that the jury commended the laboratory's "imaginative design moves, and its ability to influence projects elsewhere."

For more information, contact:
Product Line Manager Charlie Brandt, Charles.Brandt@pnl.gov
Project Manager Heida Diefenderfer, Heida.Diefenderfer@pnl.gov


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