Freese and Nichols Restores Ecosystem at Lawson’s Canal in Beaumont

When the City of Beaumont tried to turn a former canal section into a staging area for emergencies, they ran into a problem: a citation for violating federal environmental law. Freese and Nichols devised a creative solution that instead restored the site to its historical condition as forested wetlands.

The team also helped the city tell residents the story about aquatic habitat restoration, using Esri technology to create a public website featuring an ArcGIS StoryMap.

The Need: Resolution of an Unexpected Environmental Law Violation

The Lawson’s Canal Restoration Project was born as an innovative solution to a citation the City of Beaumont received for violating Section 404 of the Clean Water Act when they placed fill material into a defunct portion of Lawson’s Canal. The city initially intended to create an elevated emergency staging area because this portion of canal was no longer in use for water supply. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the fill had been placed in waters of the U.S. without prior authorization.

The Solution: Environmental Restoration to Forested Wetlands

After determining other areas were preferable for emergency staging, Freese and Nichols worked with the city to instead propose restoring the site to its pre-canal conditions as forested wetlands. After the USACE agreed this approach would resolve the violation, the team developed a restoration plan in support of the environmental permit. One key feature of the restoration plan was that the fill material did not have to be completely removed; it was removed only to the depth that matched the elevations of the adjacent wetlands.

The restoration plan also outlined the best tree species selection and planting density to mimic the wetlands. The team worked closely with a local tree farm to coordinate procurement of the trees, while the city oversaw the fill removal and site regrading. Native wetland vegetation naturally repopulated the site between the fill removal/regrading effort and tree planting, and trees were planted in November 2022. This marked the transition from the restoration effort to compliance monitoring in accordance with the permit.

Freese and Nichols suggested that the city consider public outreach to turn what had been a thorny problem into a positive for the community. This resulted in another opportunity for innovation through the use of Esri technology to bring the project to the public with an ArcGIS StoryMap. The team used this software in an innovative way to create a visually pleasing, long-scrolling web page for the city to host on their website under their own ArcGIS online license.

The Innovation: Specialized Application of Permitting Expertise and Use of GIS Software

The team’s novel approach to obtain a nationwide permit for aquatic habitat restoration transformed a regulatory violation into an opportunity for wetland restoration, improved water resources and public engagement. The project improved the wetland area, function and quality and helped bolster the city’s relationship with the USACE

While this was a relatively small project, it is a strong addition to Freese and Nichols’ restoration project portfolio and experience with nature-based solutions. It’s also another step forward in our data collection and management approach through improved GPS and GIS software and drone use. These advances allowed the team to collect the data necessary for the ArcGIS StoryMap and create this excellent public engagement tool.

Below is a preview of the web page designed for the City of Beaumont to inform the community about the positive changes at Lawson’s Canal, a fresh application for Esri technology and ArcGIS.