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FORENSIC ANALYSIS: COMMON PROJECT PERFORMANCE FACTORS

BACKGROUND
Author: Jon Miller
Researcher: Andrew Rella
Project Manager: Jon Miller
Davidson Laboratory
Stevens Inst. of Technology
arella@stevens.edu
jmiller@stevens.edu

The Hudson River Sustainable
Shorelines Project is a multiyear effort lead by the New
York State Department of Environmental Conservation Hudson River National Estuarine
Research Reserve, in cooperation with the Greenway Conservancy for the Hudson River
Valley.
The Project is supported by
NOAA through the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative.
Hudson River Sustainable
Shorelines Project
Norrie Point Environmental
Center
P O Box 315
Staatsburg, NY 12580
http:\\www.hrnerr.org
(845) 889-4745
hrnerr@dec.ny.gov
July, 2015

The intent of the forensic analysis was to investigate the
site conditions of six engineered shorelines that were
impacted by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011 and
Post-Tropical Storm Sandy in 2012. The selected projects included both traditional and non-traditional
shoreline stabilization, and included both projects that
were significantly damaged, as well as those with only
minimal damage. The objective was to identify the critical factors that determined the success or failure of the
projects. Project objectives included; determining patterns among structures that survived (minimal to no
damage, the structure’s functionality was not compromised) and those that failed (moderate to ultimate damage, structures functionality was compromised); deter- Figure 1 - Map showing site locations.
mining which aspects of structural maintenance lead to
the failure/survival; determining impacts from extreme waves, water levels, and increased
currents; and determining the impact of vegetation on structure failure/survival. The final
project locations were selected from a list of 20 potential sites: with ease of access, availability
of data and stakeholder input being strongly considered. The six sites that were selected were;
Coxsackie Boat Launch, Coxsackie, NY; Esopus Meadows Preserve, Esopus, NY; Oak Point,
Bronx, NY; Hunt’s Point Landing, Bronx, NY; Habirshaw Park, Yonkers, NY; and Matthiessen
Park/Scenic Hudson Park, Irvington, NY. The Coxsackie, Habirshaw, Esopus Meadows, and
Irvington sites experienced minimal damage from the extreme storm events. Hunt’s Point
Landing and Oak Point in the Bronx were more severely impacted. Tools used in the analysis
included historic aerial photographs, topographic maps, site photographs, engineering plans,
correspondence with site planners, site visits, topographic/bathymetric surveys, and detailed

hydrodynamic modeling that was used to establish both the typical and storm conditions at each site. This
data was compiled and was used to create a holistic picture of each site including the background and storm
conditions. This “evidence” was used to develop conclusions based on engineering judgement as to why
each project performed the way it did. Separate reports have be generated that describe the evidence and
conclusions for each individual site. This document summarizes the common themes that were identified
through these analyses, and presents some recommendations for improving regulation, design, and construction of future projects.
While there were a number of site specific factors that led to the poor performance of some of the projects,
there were some common factors that were identified. These included:

Impacts from debris during storm events

Use of undersized and/or not properly graded stone

Use of improper slopes

Impacts from ice

In addition, although it was not observed directly at any of the sites, the issue of increased erosion on the
leeside of structures from when floodwaters receded was identified by the Sustainable Shorelines Forensic
Analysis Technical Advisory Panel as potentially significant during Sandy and a cause of concern for future
designs. As with the factors related to poor performance, there were a mixture of site specific and general
factors that were associated with strong project performance. Some of the general factors included:

Regular inspections and maintenance

The willingness and ability to use an adaptive management approach to correct identified deficiencies

Proper slopes and stone sizing

Maturity of vegetation

These general performance factors are discussed in more detail below, followed by a set of recommendation based on observations made during the forensic analysis.

MATURITY OF VEGETATION
The maturity of the vegetation at several of the sites was determined to be a critical factor in the survival
of plantings and the overall resilience of the shorelines. The clearest evidence is provided by the Esopus
Meadows site which experienced heavy damage and erosion during a spring storm in April 2007. The
storm occurred less than one year after the project’s completion and before the vegetation had time to mature. Much of the smaller vegetation was uprooted, while some of the larger vegetation was rearranged as
it slid down slope during the storm. The decision was made to work with nature, and the project was
repaired by reinforcing the storm modified slope with a biodegradable mat, secured with new plantings.
The modified project was thriving when Irene, Lee, and Sandy occurred and experienced only minimal
damage during the storms. The maturity of the vegetation (combined with the modified slope) is believed
to be responsible for the resilience of the site. Hindcasts were not performed for the April 2007 storm;

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however, in all likelihood, the conditions during the storm did not exceed those experienced during Irene,
Lee, or Sandy. It should be noted that the site also withstood the March 2010 Nor’easter which was a storm
similar to the April 2007 storm.
Mature vegetation also likely helped to stabilize the slopes at Habirshaw Park and Coxsackie Boat Launch
during Post-Tropical Storm Sandy; however, both sites were submerged at the storm’s peak, reducing the
amount of time the vegetation was exposed to the most damaging conditions. Conversely, the immature
vegetation at Oak Point and Hunt’s Point provided little resistance to the erosional forces experienced at
those sites.

Figure 2 - Esopus Meadows site after 2007 storm
(Scenic Hudson).

Figure 3 - Esopus Meadows site after Sandy, photo
taken on November 3, 2012 (Creative Habitat Corp.).

SLOPE COMPATABILITY
Oversteepened slopes were determined to be one of
the primary factors responsible for the amount of
damage that occured to the Oak Point project during
Sandy. At Oak Point the steep slopes were dictated
to some extent by regulatory requirements. NY State
Department of Environmental Conservation
regulations prohibit filling below the mean high
water line unless a “reasonable and neccesary”
criteria is met. Flood insurance requirements on the
other hand dictate that the site elevation exceed 13 ft
NAVD 88 (elevation of the neighboring coastal A
zones). Traditional wetland slopes on the order of 1
(Vertical) on 10 (Horizontal) dictate a horzontal
distance of at least 130 feet to achieve the required

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Figure 4 - Oversteep slope at Oak Point.

elevation change, however some parts of the Oak Point site have less than 30 horizontal feet. As a result
some sections of the Oak Point site were constructed with slopes as steep as 1 on 2. Such steep slopes make
the site extremely vulnerable to erosion not only from waves and storms, but also from runoff (which has
also been identified as a problem). During Sandy, the steep slopes were impacted by a combination of
large waves and extreme amounts of heavy debris that combined to scour away soil and vegetation. While
the upland area was largely protected due to its elevation, the wetlands restoration project at the site was
nearly completely destroyed.
Esopus Meadows, Coxsackie, and Hunts Point are
three sites where the survivial of the vegetation can
be at least partly accredited to mild sloping
shorelines.
As discussed above, at Esopus
Meadows a spring Nor’easter less than a year after
the project’s consruction significantly damaged the
original project. The milder, storm-modified slope
was incorporated into the revised project design
and successfully resisted the three histroic storm
events. The Esopus Meadows project is discussed
further in the Adaptive Management section of this
report. The Hunts Point Landing and Habirshaw
sites are additional examples of locations where
mild slopes may have minimized damage during
Figure 5 - Naturally sloping shoreline at Habirshaw
the three historic storms. Each site benefits from
Park in June 2004 (Photo by: Sven Hoeger).
being in a location where the horizontal space
constraints faced at Oak Point are less of an issue. As a result, more natural slopes on the order of 1 on 10
were used at each of those sites. During the historic storms, there is a tendency for the mild sloping sites
to be innundated and/or have any debris ride up, rather than gouge into the slope. Although not the focus
of this study, the mild slopes likely play a similar role in limiting the damage due to ice.

DEBRIS IMPACT
During Post-Tropical Storm Sandy, erosion and scour caused by large floating debris was determined to
be the primary cause of damage at several of the sites. This was particularly true for the Oak Point and
Hunts Point sites. At both of these locations, even during non-storm conditions debris accumulation is
common. Particularly in urban areas, debris removal can be a common and costly component of the maintenance associated with shoreline projects (Habirshaw Park is another example). During Sandy, the flooding
and storm damage that occurred throughout the region resulted in an extensive amount of floating debris
entering the water. As a result of the intensity of the storm, a significant amount of this debris consisted of
large, heavy objects that when thrust against an unprotected embankment, were capable of causing severe
damage. At Oak Point, the amount of debris which had to be removed from the site after the storm provided direct evidence of the nature of the conditions experienced. The coved nature of the shoreline at Oak
Point is particularly conducive to the collection of debris. Once inside the cove, the debris becomes trapped

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and the shoreline is abraded continuously over the duration of the storm. At Hunts Point there was less
direct evidence, but plenty of indirect evidence as to the impact of debris during Sandy. While all of the
structural elements of the Hunts Point project survived Sandy intact, much of the vegetation and many of
the ancillary project elements were damaged. Damage to sturdy ornamental project features such as water
fountains and fences provide evidence as to the power and destructive capabilities of the debris laden flow.
It is believed that the sloping terraced nature of the site, combined with the appropriately sized and placed
structural elements limited erosion and damage to the structural features at the Hunts Point site.

Figure 6 - Debris at Oak Point after Sandy (NY
Times).

Figure 7 - Damaged fence at the Hunt’s Point site after Sandy.

LEESIDE EROSION AND IMPACTS
Although leeside erosion was not observed to be a
factor at any of the sites visited for the forensic analysis, members of the technical advisory panel identified it as a primary cause of shoreline structure
damage at other Hudson River locations. Leeside
erosion occurs as water and/or waves overtop a
structure and erode the sediment behind the structure. In areas where overtopping is expected frequently, splash pads (typically concrete pads designed to prevent erosion behind a structure) are often included as a part of the design to reduce the potential for leeside scour. In areas where overtopping
is not expected, specifications are typically provided
as to the type and placement of backfill and/or vegetation, to stabilize the area behind the structure,
Figure 6 - Receding flood water during Sandy.

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even though leeside scour is not a particular concern. For
a properly designed structure, leeside erosion tends to be
fairly intermittent and can typically be addressed during
routine maintenance. During Post-Tropical Storm Sandy
leeside scour depressions created when structures were
overtopped, interacted with debris laden return flow as
the surge subsided, creating a secondary hazard typically
not accounted for in design. This was observed by the
Technical Advisory Panel at several sites within the Hudson not included in the Forensic Analysis. The scour depressions created a flow path which allowed fast-moving, debris-laden water to impact the leeside of strucFigure 7 - Typical leeside erosion.
tures, effectively dragging them back into the water.
Generally coastal structures are not designed to resist these types of dynamic forces on the backside of the
structure.

MAINTENANCE AND ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT
Maintenance and adaptive management were identified as critical factors contributing to the long-term resilience of several of the projects. Typical maintenance
requirements consist of removing debris and inspecting and replanting vegetation. Oftentimes this maintenance can be carried out by volunteer groups during
river clean-ups, service projects, etc. An effective
maintenance plan also includes regular inspections.
Regular inspections can identify deficiencies which can
often be corrected before an entire project is compromised. Two of the projects selected for the forensic
analysis provide examples of effective adaptive management. The previously mentioned Esopus Meadows Figure 8 - Adaptive management of Habirshaw Park
project required adaptive management after a spring
site in 2008 (Photo by: Sven Hoeger).
Nor’easter significantly damaged the original project.
Rather than restore the project to its original design, an adaptive management approach was pursued in
which the shoreline slope was reduced and secured with an erosion control mat and appropriate vegetation. The modified project has been successful and the shoreline has remained stable through several large
storm events, and icy winters. At Habirshaw Park, site inspections revealed that the original stone sill was
incapable of protecting the marsh and tide pool features behind it. This was attributed to the size of the
stones being too small and the elevation of the sill being too low. An innovative, low cost solution that
capitalized on the available material and labor was to create a gabion using the original sill stones and a
net to secure them (Figure 10). The modified sill has been successful at protecting the marsh and vegetation,
and has survived Sandy and several icy winters.

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Several of the projects visited during the spring of 2014
including Habirshaw Park are currently in need of
maintenance. At Habirshaw Park, the net that was used
to encapsulate the sill stones is beginning to show signs
of degradation. (Figure 11). In its current condition, the
sill is still effective; however if the deficiency is not addressed in the near future, the net may tear completely
and the sill will revert back to its original ineffective
state. At the Coxsackie site some of the stones have become dispersed across the site and invasive vegetation
has encroached on the project. The movement of the
stones is likely related to both natural (ice impact) and
human activity (dumping of snow/ice at the site). In its
current state, the project still appears to be effective at

Figure 9 - May 2014 state of Habirshaw Park gabion
(Photo by: Omar Lopez May 2014).

reducing/eliminating the erosion along the edge of the
parking lot. It is recommended that the site be inspected on a regular basis and if the erosion resumes that
the displaced stones and vegetation be replaced.

ADEQUATE STONE SIZING
Stone sizing plays an important role in the survivability of shoreline projects because it is generally the size
and the weight of the stone (or other armoring element) that provides the resistance to erosion. During the
forensic analysis, inadequate stone sizing was identified as a factor limiting the current and future protection provided by several of the projects. At Habirshaw Park, stones existing onsite were used to create the
original sill/breakwater structure, but were found to be unstable when placed directly on the shoreline.
Fortunately, the site was monitored and the deficiency was recognized early enough that corrective actions
could be taken. More detail is provided above in the Maintenance and Adaptive Management section, but the
creative solution that was found was to bind the stones together to form a low-tech gabion. Gabions effectively allow many small stones to function like larger stones, and are frequently used when large stones
are not available.
During the site visit to Coxsackie in the spring of 2014, stone sizing was identified as a potential problem.
While the sill/terrace structure at Coxsackie survived Sandy, it appears as though ice and/or human impacts (dumping of ice/snow) during the winter of 2013-2014 have displaced several of the smaller stones.
The original design for Coxsackie called for 2 foot diameter stone; however many of the displaced stones
have a substantially smaller diameter (some as small as 6 inches). Although the design for Coxsackie may
have been sufficient, the stones that were ultimately utilized appear to have been too small.
At the two Irvington sites, Sandy exposed a problem with the gradation of the material used to create the
rubble revetment. The larger armor elements (mostly rock, concrete, and brick) in the revetment were
stable; however some of the smaller underlayer material washed out during the storm. An appropriately
engineered and constructed revetment is designed and built in such a way that the finer material at the

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core of the structure will not wash out through the spaces between the larger armor stones on the surface.
If the core material is washed out, eventually the revetment will collapse on itself and slump, reducing its
effectiveness in protecting the shoreline.

Figure 10 - Some of the larger (foreground) and
smaller (background) stones at Coxsackie.

Figure 11 - Fine material washed out of the Irvington revetment in March 2014.

RECOMMENDATIONS
In light of the conclusions reached during the forensic analyses, the following recommendations are made
for improving the storm resilience of future shoreline stabilization projects.
1.

More research needs to be done on the performance of ecologically enhanced stabilization approaches during heavy ice and debris conditions. Currently only minimal engineering design
guidance exists on the consideration of debris and ice forces on structures. The guidance is even
more limited for non-traditional structures. The importance of debris and ice loads are expected
to be more significant as we move away from traditional hard structures towards ecologically enhanced shorelines that tend to be softer. Research focused on replacing several existing “rule of
thumb” relationships with more physically-based design approaches should be emphasized.

2.

More research needs to be done in the area of plant material selection. Research should be conducted on the type and placement of vegetation for optimal stability. This is critically important
for shoreline stabilization approaches that rely on vegetation to provide resistance to erosion. In
particular, information on the growth of root systems and how they influence the stability of the
substrate and structural components of hybrid stabilization approaches is lacking.

3.

Proper monitoring and maintenance are important to the long-term performance of all projects;
however, it is critical for ecologically enhanced shoreline projects. Adaptive management was
identified as a critical factor in the performance of several of the projects analyzed. The inclusion
of maintenance plans as a part of the design and funding of ecologically enhanced shoreline projects is suggested. The existing regulations need to be examined, and if necessary modified to allow

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for maintenance and if necessary adaptive management of ecologically enhance shoreline stabilization projects.
4.

Temporary stabilization measures should be provided to allow vegetation to mature. Evidence
collected during this project is consistent with the previous work that indicates that the maturity
of the vegetated components of shoreline stabilization projects plays an important role in determining their resistance to scour/erosion. Appropriate measures should be taken to protect newly
planted vegetation until it reaches maturity. The type and durability of any temporary protection
measure should be based on the physical conditions expected at the site and the growth rate of the
vegetation. Coir logs are an example of a temporary protection measure that could be used if the
shoreline slope and wave conditions allow.

5.

Terracing or other measures should be used to avoid unnatural slopes. Different types of vegetation have different preferred growing conditions, with one of the important factors being slope.
When placed on unnaturally steep slopes, wetland vegetation typically does not grow well and is
extremely vulnerable to scour and erosion. Several sites analyzed for this project effectively utilized terraces as a means to achieve the required vertical elevation difference, while also preserving
natural habitat slopes. Terraces are also effective at reducing the potential damage from debris
and ice. The milder slopes of a terrace encourage debris and ice to ride up the slope rather than
cut into the slope as is common on steep shorelines.

6.

Leeside forces should be addressed in design/construction of coastal structures. Although
leeside scour and leeside debris flow impacts were not identified as a dominant cause of erosion
for any of the sites considered in the forensic analysis, they were identified by the Technical Advisory Panel as a major problem elsewhere within the Hudson River. It is recommended that these
potentially important forces receive more attention during the design and construction of future
projects. While more research needs to be done to determine the exact magnitude of some of these
leeside forces, there are existing techniques that can be adapted and utilized in situations where
overtopping and leeside scour are expected.

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