Environmental upgrade Newest ERDC lab pure Gold

Published 11:46 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Whether it’s studying the impact of sediment on sea floors or testing plants to absorb heavy metals used on the battlefield, they all are matters of fact for researchers at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

“This is a contaminated sediment cylinder,” Dr. Carlos Ruiz pointed out after the facility’s $16.4 million administrative office complex for ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory was dedicated Tuesday. “We run tests to mitigate contaminants in sediments.”

The ongoing tests in the Halls Ferry Road facility’s Hazardous Waste Research Center are tied to dredge material left floating in the world’s waters after channels are deepened underwater. On the military side, biopolymer soybeans are laid out to gauge how the plant will soak up lead and zinc from mine fields.

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Research at the EL’s seven major testing facilities in Vicksburg and the certified “gold” status of its spacious, green-friendly headquarters offer a challenge to ERDC’s 2,500 employees and contractors, Joseph Westphal, undersecretary of the Army told about 200 people at Tuesday’s ceremony that included Corps employees, contractors and local and federal officials headed by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson.

“The work you’re doing is not new,” Westphal said. “The work you’re doing is continuing a great deal of effort that you’ve been undertaking for a long time. I challenge you and I challenge the team here to ensure that technology and that science continue to be transferred to the field.”

Planned for a decade and built between August 2009 and December 2010, the EL headquarters became home to about 300 engineers, scientists and clerical staff in February and March.

This year, the building earned a Gold designation from the U.S. Green Building Council for environmental design as part of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program — becoming what project managers say is the first civilian Army building in the nation to carry the distinction. More than 20 percent of the structure’s materials are recycled content, and energy-efficient fixtures are installed at every vital outlet, from the air conditioning system to the water faucets. At its completion, planners expected to save about $200,000 in electricity and natural gas costs annually solely for the way it’s built.

“That LEED Gold is a difficult, difficult thing to attain,” Westphal said.

Officials held off on a formal ribbon-cutting until both a high-ranking Army official and Thompson could schedule appearances, ERDC spokesman Wayne Stroupe said.

Thompson noted cost savings of building green and how contractor First-Yates Construction, a product of the Small Business Administration’s Mentor-Protege program, had “given us all bragging rights” in green construction and partnerships between small and large builders.

“The LEED certified Gold designation is also a step in the right direction toward energy conservation and other things that we have to do in this country if we’re going to continue to be the leader that we are,” Thompson said.

Researchers had worked out of a half-dozen separate buildings for years — including surplus FEMA trailers that dated to the 1973 Mississippi River Flood, said Dr. Beth Fleming, EL director. Touches of modern-day furnishings have given the structure a certain bit of “sass,” she added.

“It really represents our personality — a little bit of sassy traditionalism,” she said.

The EL is one of four labs at ERDC’s Vicksburg campus, others being the Coastal and Hydraulics, Geotechnical and Structures, and Information Technology labs. EL research in Vicksburg and at three additional labs in Baton Rouge, Lewisville, Texas, and Eau Galle, Wis., has been credited with key innovations in ecosystem restoration; wetlands preservation, hazardous waste cleanup; invasive, threatened and endangered species; dam impact mitigation and groundwater and soil protection.

ERDC has been named the Army’s top large research and development lab the past three years and 11 out of the past 20, and includes three other labs in New Hampshire, Illinois and Virginia.