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Jul 29 / Julia Sosin

Field Trip: Consulting and Stewardship

Final report drafts were submitted last week and our fourth workshop came, conquered and passed. For our fourth workshop, we set out to explore two questions: what does an environmental consulting firm look like? And what has been going on with the Belle Isle environment since the transition from a city to state park? To explore this and other topics, we travelled to the Ann Arbor Office of ECT, Inc., and the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit, to meet with two of our RISEUP mentors.

To explore the first question, we traveled out to the Ann Arbor office of ECT, Inc., one of our RISEUP mentors, and received a warm welcome by the Vice President and Director of Water Resources, Dr. Sanjiv Sinha. Originally founded in Florida, ECT has offices in ten different states and covers issues throughout the entire country, with several projects in the Great Lakes. Dr. Sinha introduced us to the range of issues that company covers, including watershed management, green infrastructure, industrial permitting, ecosystem restoration, land use planning, energy generation siting, and more. Their staff is multidisciplinary, and, in addition to working with private clients, they partner extensively with municipal, state and federal governments. Not all of their projects have an engineering approach – some examine issues from a socioeconomic standpoint. Dr. Sinha presented on how two projects -one involving financially sustainable harbors, another comparing the effects of different water conservation strategies – team up with multiple agencies [the acronyms can be overwhelming], integrate research and develop models, receive input from community members [This was the first time I had heard of a “design charette” used in stakeholder engagement], and apply and share their findings.


RISEUP scholars glancing at project displays in ECT, Inc. conference room


Following our visit and drive back to Detroit, we dipped into the beautiful re-opened Belle Isle Aquarium to receive an off-hours, mini-tour of some native and exotic fish. Dr. Ram, the RISEUP Director and member of the aquarium’s Science Advisory Board, showed us some of the aquarium’s large collection of air-breathing fish and the new saltwater tank.


Mebby Pearson, head of the Island Stewardship Committee at the Belle Isle Conservancy, shared with us her experience on sustaining stewardship and multiple-agency partnerships in an urban parks. Through maps and aerial photographs, Mebby taught us about the history of the island’s natural area as a Red Ash forest and wetland, and the challenges it faces today against invasive species such as phragmites, buckthorn, honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet.  With the combined effort of several volunteer groups, the Student Conservation Association, corporate donors, and ecological consulting and design firms, and over several years, the Island Stewardship Committee has removed invasive species from over 29 acres of forest and the restoration of five different walking trails. Interestingly enough, Ms. Pearson added that the forest left behind after the invasive are gone may be restored quite differently than its origins – such as when an exotic insect like Emerald Ash Borer destroys the canopy. Ms. Pearson also discussed the history of the Belle Isle Conservancy, as a compilation of many different advocacy groups on the island. Today, the Conservancy works with the City of Detroit, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, the State Police, and other non-profits. Mebby emphasized that resolving conflicts between agencies relies heavily on understanding the different styles and agenda each group must employ, and recognizing the shared goal of improving the island for all.

–          Julia, RISEUP Coordinator