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Navigational Infrastructure Projects to Benefit from International Guidelines on Environmental Risk Management

By: Burton Suedel, Research Biologist, USACE Engineering Research and Development Center

Kevin Kane, Senior ManagerEnvironment, North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation

David Moore, Principal, Ramboll-ENVIRON International Corporation

Kevin Allen, Belfast Harbor Master, Port of Belfast

Rebecca Gardner, Principal Engineer, Anchor QEA AS

John Lally, Coastal/Dredging Engineer, Lally Consulting, LLC

Miran Vanwonterghem, Project Engineer, Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services

Amy Parry, Marine Scientist, Atkins

Todd Bridges, Senior Scientist, USACE Engineering Research and Development Center

The World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure, PIANC (formally the Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses), produces high quality technical reports, guidelines, briefs, and standards in the field of navigable waterway traffic on canals, rivers, and in ports.


PIANC has brought together environmental management experts from around the world to develop a practical guideline for environmental risk management of navigational infrastructure projects. A small dedicated team, known as Working Group 175, has been traveling to ports around the world seeking best practices, gathering case studies, and learning from the past successes and failures in an industry that has been around for hundreds of years and is likely to be around for hundreds more.

Ports have been the single most important economic driver in many countries, to the extent that most of the major cities of the world have developed alongside a commercial port (PIANC 2014). Trade by sea and inland waterways has always been, and will always continue to be, vital to the day-to-day function of modern society.

As the world’s population continues to grow, navigational infrastructure must continue to be maintained, developed, and modernized to meet the demands of society. It is the work associated with maintaining, developing, and modernizing navigational infrastructure that is the focus of the guideline and is collectively referred to as “Navigational Infrastructure Projects.”

The nine worthy individuals that have taken on the task of writing this “practical” guideline have gathered from Europe, United States, and Australia. They have visited a number of ports first-hand, starting in Australia in October 2015 when the group visited the Great Barrier Reef and saw up close how best practice environmental management of navigational projects are being successfully managed alongside the iconic world heritage site.

In March 2016, the group visited six port areas on the west coast of the United States, seeking out more examples of sound environmental management.

PIANC Working Groups tour Port of Seattle (l to r): Kevin Kane, Paul Scherrer and Victor Magar (both with PIANC WG 176), Burton Suedel, Rebecca Gardner, David Moore, and John Lally.

PIANC Working Groups tour Port of Seattle (l to r): Kevin Kane, Paul Scherrer and Victor Magar (both with PIANC WG 176), Burton Suedel, Rebecca Gardner, David Moore, and John Lally.

Key Aspects of the Approach

Some of the key aspects that they have identified as common to an environmental risk management (ERM) best practice approach include:

  • Integration and effective evaluation of the environmental, social and economic values unique to the project area, while still delivering operationally functional and safe infrastructure.

  • Inclusion of ERM early in the project formulation stage, when there are still opportunities to “reset the compass" and explore project alternatives and beneficial outcomes.

  • A central focus on early and ongoing stakeholder engagement.

  • Opportunities to “Work with Nature" needs to be a common language when scoping waterborne transport projects.

  • The transition from environmental risk identification and assessment to risk management is an important element to a broader Environmental Management Framework (EMF), a framework that is ultimately able to adapt and change to project pressures, environmental monitoring results, and social expectations (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A best-practices approach for managing environmental risks of navigation infrastructure projects.

Figure 1: A best-practices approach for managing environmental risks of navigation infrastructure projects.

The environmental effects of navigational infrastructure projects, be they negative or positive, arise from the interaction between the project’s activities and the environmental values within and around the project area. It is this interaction between the project activities and environmental values that holds the key to both assessing project-related environmental risk and the consequential environmental management that is implemented throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Even in the conceptual phase of a project, the project team should be able to provide a reasonably comprehensive account of the potential project activities (e.g., piling, excavation, dredging, abrasive blasting and painting, etc.) and to catalog and map known key environmental values in and around the project area.

The Importance of Stakeholders

Productive stakeholder participation, along with interagency collaboration, are key elements to project success when risks are managed adaptively (Fischenich et al., 2012) . Therefore, it is important to include relevant stakeholders in some of the early project decision making.

Stakeholders can be other internal business groups, external experts and consultants, regulatory authorities, research organizations, interest groups, and community members, to name a few.

Stakeholders can assist the project in this early stage by helping to identify other environmental values of which the project team may not be aware. This is often the case with areas of historical or cultural value that are sometimes poorly recorded or mapped and known only by a select few.

Stakeholder contribution is also important when establishing the project objectives and targets associated with the environmental values that have been identified. Inevitably, there will be some disturbance associated with the project and, as the perceptions are known to differ between experts and laypeople, stakeholder buyin as to the acceptable levels of that disturbance is paramount in delivering a sustainable project outcome.

Setting the Scene

Having identified and set management targets and objectives around key environmental values, as well as documentation of the activities expected to occur throughout the lifecycle of the project, a range of risk assessment techniques or tools can be used to assess the environmental risk associated with the project. These tools can be either qualitative or quantitative, or quite commonly a combination of both. Examples include “likelihood – consequence assessment,” “pressure – state – response evaluation,” and Bayesian statistics, to name a few.

Whichever risk assessment approach is used, the objective is to help prioritize those areas of the project that are at greater risk of not meeting the targets and objectives set for each environmental value. Prioritizing these risks allows the project team to focus its environmental monitoring and management endeavors.

Changing with the Times

Adaptive management is increasingly used to address risk. In the context of environmental risk management for navigational infrastructure projects, it is simply a process that allows the project to adapt to the changing environment in which it is operating.

The need to change may arise from findings or results from the project’s environmental monitoring program in which a pre-set threshold or tolerance level has been reached and a range of reactive measures are introduced to further manage the effects.

Other outside influences can also result in the need for an adaptive management response, and these can occur at any time during the project lifecycle, for example:

  • An event or incident from which the outcomes or learnings are important to the project;

  • A change in social attitude toward aspects of the project or particular environmental values; and

  • A significant change in legislation or government policy in a related area.

The Port of Long Beach Middle Harbor Terminal, now operational, is expected to be the greenest and most technologically advanced container terminal in the world, minimizing if not eliminating negative environmental impacts form shipping operations once completed in 2019.

The Port of Long Beach Middle Harbor Terminal, now operational, is expected to be the greenest and most technologically advanced container terminal in the world, minimizing if not eliminating negative environmental impacts form shipping operations once completed in 2019.

Working with Nature Principles

The approach also incorporates PIANC’s Working with Nature (WwN) principles (PIANC, 2008), which promotes an integrated planning and design process by:

  • Identifying potential benefits as well as negative impacts of the project;

  • Integrating nature and natural processes as a means to achieve project objectives as well as additional objectives made possible by implementing the approach, and

  • Embracing stakeholders as partners.

Another PIANC Working Group (WG 176) is currently developing a guide on the implementation of Working with Nature in practice. “Building with Nature” (BwN) and “Engineering with Nature” (EWN) are also examples of this kind of approach (PIANC, 2008; IADC, 2010; Bridges et al., 2014; Suedel et al., 2014; De Vriend and Van Koningsveld, 2012).

Watch this Space

Working Group 175 is planning to visit a number of European ports in May and October of this year, after which they will be finalizing the guideline. The report is expected to be published by PIANC in 2017.

The guideline ultimately aims to help the waterborne transport industry to manage environmental risks and drive the long-term sustainable outcomes from their navigational infrastructure projects, ensuring that they continue to meet the demands of society well into the future.


Bridges, T.S., J. Lillycrop, J.R. Wilson, T.J. Fredette, B. Suedel, C.J. Banks, and E.J. Russo. 2014. Engineering with Nature Promotes Triple-Win Outcomes. Terra Et Aqua. 135:17-23.

De Vriend, H.J. and M. Van Koningsveld. 2012. Building with Nature: Thinking, Acting and Interacting Differently. EcoShape, Building with Nature, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

Fischenich, C. and C. Vogt et al. 2012. The Application of Adaptive Management to Ecosystem Restoration Projects. EBA Technical Notes Collection. ERDC TNEMRRP- EBA-10. Vicksburg, MS: U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. www.wes.army.mil/el/emrrp.

International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC). 2010. Facts about Building with Nature. IADC Information Update Number 3. www.iadc-dredging.com/index.php.

PIANC. 2008. Working with Nature. PIANC Position Paper. October, 2008, Revised January 2011, PIANC, Brussels, Belgium.

PIANC. 2014. Working Group MarCom 158: Masterplans for the Development of Existing Ports, PIANC, Brussels, Belgium.

Suedel, B.C., T.J. Fredette, and J.M. Corbino. 2014.

Island Building in the Atchafalaya River, Louisiana USA: An Engineering with Nature Demonstration Project. World Dredging. 48(9/10):14-16.

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