You won’t find any cypress wetlands in West Chester, Pennsylvania, but you will find a firm, Weston Solutions, that is doing its part to rebuild the marshes and swamps of the Mississippi River Delta. The company is one of many surveyed recently by researchers from Duke University in their study on wetland restoration and its links to the wider economy. From its headquarters in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Weston is changing the way that corporations and governments engage in efforts to revive degraded wetlands, based on practices honed at project sites like those that could benefit from RESTORE Act funds.

Since it was established in 1957, Weston Solutions has focused on environmental rehabilitation. In its earliest years, this primarily meant wastewater management and cleanup at Cold War era munitions sites, but five decades on, Weston’s work has expanded in scope. Today, the company employs nearly 2,000 specialists on construction, environmental systems, and project management. With several dozen offices scattered around the world and annual revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, it would be easy to think that a firm of this size would bypass barrier island restoration in a place like Barataria Bay, La. But in the past decade, this section of southern Louisiana’s wetlands has been one of many Gulf Coast locations helped by the expert input of Weston’s scientists and environmental engineers.

“In many ways, the Gulf Coast is the perfect environment for developing smart strategies to save coastal ecosystems,” notes Kathleen McGinty, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Strategic Growth. “It is a working coast with millions of people and invaluable infrastructure. As an American firm, we are committed to demonstrating remedies for environmental damage that also provide flood protection, especially in parts of our country that are affected by storm surges.  The Gulf region has faced many challenges over the past several years – excessive nutrient loads, hurricanes, floods, and the oil spill. We know that urgent long-term solutions are needed.”

Weston has done topographical modeling and advanced simulation planning at Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) project sites like the East and West Grand Terre Islands in coastal Louisiana. This work has helped engineering contractors to better deploy their resources for barrier island rebuilding. These barriers, in turn, shield the wetlands of the delta from waves off the Gulf of Mexico, protecting sensitive wetlands and vulnerable coastal communities from hurricane-induced floods.

A satellite view of the East/West Grand Terre Islands Restoration project site in southern Louisiana (Source: CWPPRA)

A satellite view of the East/West Grand Terre Islands Restoration project site in southern Louisiana (Source: CWPPRA)

The company has also been engaged in efforts to improve the Mississippi River Delta’s navigational infrastructure. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Weston Solutions sent dozens of its workers to the New Orleans metropolitan area, where they soon became involved in work to replace damaged canal pumps near areas that were inundated after the September 2005 levee failures.

The firm has earned plaudits for its work in wetland restoration, but it recognizes that it is just getting its feet wet. “We could be employing hundreds more people in southeastern Louisiana and southeastern Pennsylvania if there were more funding for ecosystem restoration,” says McGinty. “This is a sector that will see huge growth during the next few decades. We have governments abroad – China, India – that are waking up to the need for sustainable solutions to our environmental issues. Shouldn’t we make sure that the answers to those questions are being generated here in America?”