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Using GIS To Decipher Large-Scale Remediation Projects

By Eric Magdar , James Calenda

In support of an enormous brownfields redevelopment effort, EnviroAnalytics Group (EAG) is implementing the investigation and remediation of a 3,000-acre former steel plant property in Sparrows Point, Md., also dubbed "the Site."

The Site, which is owned by Tradepoint Atlantic (TPA), is located along the Patapsco River near the Port of Baltimore, and features a combination of access routes to a deep water port, extensive railways, and highways including the Baltimore Beltway (I-695). The Site is thus a prime location for industrial redevelopment and reuse.

From the late 1800s until 2012, the production and manufacturing of steel was conducted at Sparrows Point. Iron and steel production operations at Sparrows Point included raw material handling, coke production, sinter production, iron production, steel production, and semi-finished and finished product preparation.

In 1970, Sparrows Point was the largest steel facility in the United States. The steel making operations at the facility ceased in fall 2012. As a result of over 100 years of steel making activities, areas of the Site have been impacted with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and petroleum constituents.

In 2014, the Site was entered into the Maryland Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP). The ongoing investigation of the Site has already generated data from thousands of samples and analyses. These investigation results, and associated response actions, are driving the pace of redevelopment at the Site.

To complicate data management, EAG needed to be able to analyze the data for different development scenarios. In order to achieve this, EAG had ARM Group Inc. design and build a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the Site. The GIS required an initial investment to set background preferences and geo-reference large sets of historical site drawings.

These historical drawings aided in the identification of historical features of potential concern (tanks, processing areas, waste storage areas, etc.) and allowed the GIS operator to accurately target these features with soil, groundwater, and/or sub-slab soil gas sampling locations. The initial sets of historical site drawings included three independent plant sets, each containing approximately 60 individual drawings.

In addition, drawings from historical reports and records were geo-referenced to aide in the sampling design. The initial setup of the GIS was completed in approximately one month. A GIS shapefile with parcel boundaries, which broke the Site into smaller investigation parcels between roughly 10 and 300 acres in size, was created to indicate possible areas of future development.

These parcel boundaries allowed the geo-referenced historical figures to be compartmentalized and examined on a small scale while the investigation plan for each parcel was designed. The GIS operator was able to review a large amount of spatial information for each parcel in a short period of time.

As the investigation of each individual parcel has been completed, the GIS has allowed for the management, visualization, analysis, interpretation, and display of information to understand, monitor, and communicate the trends of the Site's location-based data.

Database queries were used to directly populate geo-referenced figures and data tables. During the course of the investigations, and as development has progressed, the GIS has been continuously updated and revised to reflect changes to the development plans, or to incorporate new resources such as past aerial images, additional historical drawings, sampling locations from historical investigations, and new data obtained during the ongoing investigations (e.g., current groundwater contours).

Photo courtesy of Flickr

As parcel boundaries are modified, or as new investigations are planned, it is often necessary to incorporate unique resources and quickly develop a revised sampling plan or report. Since most of the background work in creating the GIS was completed early on, the process of incorporating and reviewing additional resources can usually be completed in a matter of days. The GIS has greatly streamlined the revision process by replacing manual data entry and static images with automated data inputs. Thus the overall timeline for creating documents has become more efficient over the project duration.

The GIS has been an invaluable tool in all aspects of the project, from characterizing historical plant features for investigation planning, to querying and visualizing the data to identify issues and communicate with all parties.

As project boundaries are updated and modified with development needs, the GIS is an ideal platform to incorporate and interpret static historical images, sampling locations, contours, and other investigation components.

If a development boundary is updated, thus excluding some data or incorporating data from other parcels, the GIS boundaries and constraints can be quickly redrawn and analyzed to precisely identify the relevant data. The GIS capabilities are contributing to project success across multiple project phases, and are providing adaptability in the face of dynamic client needs.

Eric Magdar is Vice President, ARM Group Inc., Columbia, Md., and James Calenda is an executive with EAG

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