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Richmond Canal Project Helps Make History

Most municipal sewer projects stay out of the news, attracting attention only when sewage backs up into basements or storms cause flooding. So it was unusual when a combined sewer overflow system and canal restoration that Greeley and Hansen designed for the city of Richmond, Va., made headlines and brought out the city's civic pride.

The Richmond Canal Walk, which opened June 4, united the city's need to protect its natural resources with its desire to create economic and cultural benefits. The Canal Walk sits along the Haxall Canal and the James River & Kanawha Canal, and features a park, an outdoor museum, and murals and monuments depicting the city's history.

Project Embodies Collective Effort

The canal project took root in 1991, when the Richmond Department of Public Utilities began planning CSO project No. 3, a component of the city's CSO control plan.

Richmond's combined sanitary and stormwater sewer system had been built between the late 19th and early 20th century, and wastewater discharged into the James River, the Haxall Canal, and the James River & Kanawha Canal after major storms.

The city of Richmond funded the CSO control program to comply with the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The city engaged Greeley and Hansen to manage, plan and design the projects in the CSO control plan.

The city folded one of the plan's CSO projects into a $500 million riverfront development initiative that it hopes will retain and create more than 6,000 jobs, increase tourism revenue by $60 million over the next 10 years, bolster annual tax revenues by about $10 million and renew civic pride in the riverfront area.

To fund the development, the city formed a corporation to revitalize the riverfront and restore the canals. The Richmond Riverfront Development Corp. partnered the city with major riverfront property owners. The impetus: economic development of about 35 acres of the downtown area and 3.3 million square feet of historic building space.

During a 1992 meeting between the Richmond Department of Public Utilities, Richmond Riverfront Development Corp., and Greeley and Hansen, participants decided to combine the two endeavors. The city of Richmond commissioned Greeley and Hansen as the prime consultant, and Wallace, Roberts and Todd as the landscape architect consultant for what became the riverfront develop
ment and CSO project No. 3.

The solution to both objectives - upgrading environmental quality and redeveloping Richmond's riverfront - meant constructing the CSO system under the restored canal, which is now supplemented by the Canal Walk.

Team Rises to the Challenge
Planning and designing the CSO project No. 3 -- part of the overall CSO control program -- and integrating the project with the canal restoration presented complex issues for the 60 or so Greeley and Hansen employees who teamed up for the project.

  • The project had to reduce environmental impact on the James River.
  • The project team had to maintain water quality in the canals.
  • The team needed to protect structures in the area during construction because several historic buildings abutted new canal construction.
  • Team members wanted to minimize the visual impact of the CSO and create an environment that would attract pedestrians.
  • The design had to modify existing sewer structures that crossed the canal's path. In addition, roads, bridges, sewers, and railway and highway piers crisscrossed the site, requiring special design solutions.

During the design phase, the project required input from more than 15 federal, state and local agencies, as well as property owners and special-interest groups.

Greeley and Hansen partners Federico Maisch and Ron Bizzarri have managed the CSO project from its inception.
Maisch explains, "The Richmond Riverfront Development Corp. formed a project team that sought input from various city organizations - the Department of Public Utilities, Department of Public Works, Department of Recreation and Parks, and police and fire departments - to design a project that would address the need of each agency."

The CSO, canal restoration and water withdrawal from the James River required permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Virginia Marine Resource Commission and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The Army Corps had concerns about interior drainage and would only issue a permit for construction of the canal up to the site of the interior drainage structures. Continuing the canal through these complex interior drainage structures hinged on whether the project team could find a technical solution that the Corps would approve. Greeley and Hansen developed a solution, and the Corps extended the permit for full completion of the canal.

Canal Walk Opens With Fanfare
The Richmond Times-Dispatch followed the progress of the project, extensively covering the Canal Walk's debut. Several articles liken the development to San Antonio's River Walk, the 2 1/2-mile strip of restaurants, shops and hotels that lines either side of a manmade canal system along the San Antonio River.

A June 5 article begins, "More than 200 people, including ex-governors and current lawmakers, sat under a shiny tent yesterday and listened to speakers praise the sparkling new Canal Walk along the riverfront. …"

Mayor Timothy Kaine is quoted saying that the restored canals would be the city's centerpiece for years to come. The story also quotes Richmond City Manager Calvin D. Jamison, who has dubbed Richmond the "Gem on the James." Jamison told those assembled at the Canal Walk's opening that the restored Kanawha and Haxall canals would become the gateway to a new millennium in the city.

"Welcome to the next gateway to the Gem on the James," he said to the audience. "Twenty years from now, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will look at this place and say, 'Wow.'"

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