A monumental job

Industry professionals add some green to a historic national site.
outdoor statue of liberty

It’s not uncommon for an outdoor public area to include some kind of sculpture surrounded by vibrant landscaping. It’s less common for it to be the Statue of Liberty.

That’s what industry professionals faced when they were brought on to develop the landscaping around and on the Statue of Liberty Museum, located on Liberty Island, New York.

“I think it was one of the most interesting jobs I’ve been on,” says Doug Armour, CGIA, CIC, CLIA, CLWM, commercial irrigation technical manager at Central Turf and Irrigation Supply, Elmsford, New York.

Armour and others joined the project between 2018 and 2019 to develop the landscaping around the museum, which opened last summer, replacing a smaller museum that had been housed in the statue itself. The design included a green roof, populated with wildflowers and grasses native to the area. It also meant working closely with the National Park Service and other contractors.

In some cases, that meant actually working in very close quarters with other contractors, each focused on a different part of the job, says Angelo LoCascio, operations manager for Wetlands Inc., Saddle Brook, New Jersey, which installed the green roof irrigation and planters in the first phase of the landscaping project after construction had completed. The entire island only covers about 15 acres.

“The site was very tight, and there were 50-60 guys working at once,” he says. “Machines were going everywhere and people were honking horns. Everybody played as nice as they could to respect one another’s material and job space.”

Keeping the job moving

One of the biggest challenges was just making sure enough materials were available to keep work going, LoCascio says.

“Basically, I had to shoot an email daily as to what I needed over to the island,” he says. That list went to the general contractor, who coordinated a small barge that headed to the island a few times per week, depending on how much material needed to be shipped to the island. “We had to share, so it wasn’t just a barge for me.”

(Photo: Fullerton Landscape Architects)

Sometimes that meant all that could fit on the barge were a few concrete trucks or trucks filled with topsoil for the green roof or irrigation supplies, LoCascio says. That also sometimes meant coordinating with Central Turf and Irrigation in delivering the materials, as the trucks and their drivers would have to remain on the island for several hours until the barge went back out later in the day.

The barges didn’t come cheaply, either, at about $4,500 per day, according to Doug Fullerton, owner of Fullerton Landscape Architects of Succasunna, New Jersey, which was responsible for the ground- level landscaping and irrigation.

“It’s not a cheap operation when you’re bringing trucks, equipment and dumpsters out there,” he says. Anything that could fit in a wheelbarrow could be carried over on the public boats, which ran from 6:40 a.m. until 5 p.m. For the first two hours of each day’s runs, the public boats brought over vendor materials, but that also included supplies for restaurants and other contractors.

Working with the barges required a lot of communication, especially when Fullerton needed to find room to move equipment like a track loader or compressor on- and off-site, he says.

When he was waiting for the right materials to show up to continue the job, LoCascio found other daily work to keep his crews busy. He did his best to stay ahead of the job by monitoring the used materials and projecting what he would need in the upcoming week.

The island provided another limitation in that only equipment that could fit on a barge could be brought across to the job site. That meant LoCascio was only able to bring a small crane over to move material, instead of a larger piece of equipment that he’d typically use for a green roof project. In total, the crane lifted about 600 cubic yards of topsoil to the site, brought in 1.5 cubic yard bags.

“There was no room for a large crane,” he says. “If you can visualize it, the crane could only get the material over to one corner of the roof. Then I would have guys wheel-barrowing out of that one corner to the opposite corner.”

LoCascio started actually laying the topsoil on the opposite side of the roof, a distance of about 50 yards away, and working back toward the loading point.

(Photo: Wetlands Inc.)

“We worked our way from far to closer,” LoCascio says. “So every bit of topsoil that came, the distance shrunk a little bit.” That’s a little bit different from other rooftop projects he’s been involved in, where there was more room to work and an island’s accessibility wasn’t limiting the available equipment. In most cases, he’d be able to have the topsoil placed right on the roof where it was needed.

Maintaining a good grasp of logistics is key to a successful rooftop garden installation, LoCascio says. A contractor needs to know what type of equipment is necessary for the job and where load-bearing areas are. While an installation job on the ground can be more fast-paced, a rooftop installation means keeping track of how much material is available and scheduling deliveries to keep the job moving along steadily.

“You work your logistics differently,” LoCascio says. “Instead of ‘push, push, go, go, go,’ you work a little smarter.”

Working on Liberty Island also meant being more exposed to the elements than usual. LoCascio’s team was on-site during the summer, “in the middle of July on a rooftop,” he says. He talked regularly with his crew about working safely in hot weather, drinking water regularly and taking consistent breaks. He had a pallet of bottled water delivered to the rooftop so it was always available, and the museum’s cafeteria provided ice cubes in coolers to help keep body temperatures in a safe range.

Growing in

In many installations, either drip irrigation or sprinkler heads are used to manage the irrigation program. But in this case, both were installed to provide multiple options for both the green roof and the surrounding landscaping.

“We have a duplicate system that’s both drip and spray,” says Fullerton. “The spray is supposed to be temporary, until the meadow reaches a certain height. Then it’s supposed to be discontinued and the drip will take over.”

The spray heads are less likely to be ripped out in daily weeding, so they act as backup to the drip irrigation, Fullerton says.

The plants, a meadow mix of native grasses and wildflowers for the region, were chosen to reduce the need for extensive watering and maintenance, says Fullerton. While it starts with particular varieties, it’ll eventually pick up other regional varieties through carriers like birds. The grasses are meant to be relatively short, between 18 to 24 inches.

“Eventually, it’ll turn into a north Jersey meadow,” Fullerton says. “It’s not to make it a horrendous weeding job. It’s usually mowed once or twice a year.”

(Photo: Wetlands Inc.)

Once the topsoil was down, LoCascio hydroseeded the entire green roof. The roof’s design didn’t call for any shrubs or trees that required extra attention or water. He included some annual oats that would come up quickly in the summer and visually kick-start the grow-in before black-eyed Susans came up in the fall.

“The annual oats, they popped up really fast, and we had the irrigation going three or four days a week,” LoCascio says. The daily and overnight temperatures stayed in the right range to support the new growth, and within a few weeks, “it was a beautiful grassy field.”

The meadow mix itself will take about two years to grow in fully, which took some discussion with the National Park Service to reassure them that the plants would grow in fully and that some of the grasses weren’t, in fact, weeds.

Working with the past

The island’s history provided obstacles for the installation in a few ways. One of the toughest challenges was working with older irrigation systems that had been previously installed, Fullerton says. The plans for the existing irrigation from 10-20 years prior were missing. That meant that his team was digging up mains and retrofitting the system as it went, as well as finding connections that had the proper pressure on the island.

Beyond that, the possible preservation of history was a major part of the process, Fullerton says.

“Every hole you dig has to be checked out by an archeologist,” he says. “It’s a historic site, so everything has to be inspected for arrowheads or other things. They sifted a lot of dirt but didn’t find anything.”

The island provided another challenge with unreliable cellular service, a necessity to be able to send messages from sensors back to the mainland without regular physical visits. Initially, a cellular modem was used for the system, but trying to communicate over water was unreliable, says Armour. He and others worked with the museum to secure an Ethernet connection for the irrigation system through the museum itself.

“Now they’re able to remotely connect to the controller and get alarms and alerts of whatever’s going on out there,” Armour says.

(Photo: Wetlands Inc.)

The moisture sensors help protect the plants, which also deal with additional weather challenges due to being on the open water, with higher wind and wider temperature changes, Armour says.

“It’s usually a cooler temperature out there,” he says. “The nice part with having eight moisture sensors in different areas out there is that we’re actually able to read soil temperature and moisture. And up on the green roof, they’re getting sun all day long. So it was pretty important to set it up correctly so everybody’s getting watered the same way.”

Fullerton Landscape holds a five-year contract to maintain the island’s irrigation systems across the ground-level and rooftop landscaping, with daily monitoring of sensors to check for issues. The system includes moisture sensors on each level, and the irrigation is adjusted to keep water usage efficient.

As the season starts up, Fullerton will be monitoring those sensors and starting pre-emergent applications for the grow-in. His team will also be reseeding areas as needed after public use with about 800 people coming to the site every 20 minutes on two boats.

“We’re certainly proud to work on the Statue of Liberty,” Fullerton says.

Working on the museum’s landscaping had a personal connection for LoCascio, who remembers going to the Statue of Liberty for a sixth grade field trip, and looks forward to when his now two-year-old son is old enough to go on a field trip with his classmates.

“Every single school district in Jersey brings their children out to the Statue of Liberty. One day my son is going to go there,” LoCascio says. “That’s a forever building, and we had a hand in that.”

This article originally appeared in Irrigation & Green Industry magazine.
Kyle Brown is editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine and can be reached at kylebrown@irrigation.org.

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