2019 Northeast Region Eagle Project of the Year: A smarter way to filter stormwater

When it rains in cities and towns across the U.S., it pours.

And in this case, “it” refers to oil, salt, gasoline and other debris that gets washed down the road and into rivers, lakes and streams.

Bioswales are nature’s filter for this repugnant runoff. Strategically placed along roadsides and filled with mulch or native plants, bioswales absorb the gunk and let clean water pass through.

Or, at least that’s the way they’re supposed to work. Unfortunately, all 30 bioswales in the borough of Ohiopyle, Pa., had seen better days. They were clogged with debris and overrun with weeds.

For the past seven years, officials had tried, unsuccessfully, to fix the bioswales.

And then, at last, a Scout came along.

Peter Livengood, a member of Troop 687 from Farmington, Pa., orchestrated a massive makeover of every bioswale in Ohiopyle, eliminating a major source of pollution into the Youghiogheny River.

“The work completed during Peter’s project far exceeded any of the expectations of the borough,” Liz McCarty, borough president, writes in a letter praising the project. “The bioswales now function better than when they were originally installed.”

For his tireless effort to beautify and protect the health of his community, the Eagle Scout from the Westmoreland-Fayette Council received the 2019 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award for the Northeast Region. He also received a William T. Hornaday Silver Medal.

The 2019 Adams awards, detailed in greater depth at the end of this post, recognize outstanding Eagle projects completed by young people who earned Eagle in 2018.

Making a plan

Big tasks are better accomplished one chunk at a time. Sensing this, Peter divided his project into smaller steps:

  1. Prepare the project plan.
  2. Get approval from his troop, troop committee, council, and the Ohiopyle borough.
  3. Begin fundraising efforts.
  4. Plan workdays and recruit the workforce.
  5. Assess and clean the current bioswales.
  6. Create the improved bioswales.
  7. Place informational signs.
  8. Contact local newspapers to publicize his helpers’ efforts.
  9. Complete paperwork and submit project report.

Raising the money

Peter calculated that he’d need nearly $25,000 to pull this off, but few 17-year-olds have that kind of cash lying around.

To raise the money, Peter created donation bins to place in local businesses, started a GoFundMe page and received a $2,000 donation from the organizers of a local wine festival.

His total cash donations: $8,272.21.

But Peter wasn’t just asking for money. He also asked around for donated materials and supplies, and businesses responded with a resounding yes.

Lowes donated 378 bags of topsoil, while Home Depot chipped in with five 100-foot rolls of commercial weed barrier fabric. Dozens of businesses donated essentials like plants, safety vests for the workers and pizza for a well-deserved lunch break.

In total, Peter secured $16,565.05 in donated supplies. Add that to the cash donations, and Peter raised a total of $24,837.26 for his project.

I think it’s worth pointing out that not a penny of that money was raised by phone, email or text.

“I was dressed in my full Scout uniform and personally visited local businesses when seeking donations,” Peter says.

An Ohiopyle bioswale before (left) and after.

Recruiting volunteers

Under Peter’s leadership, 49 workers combined to devote 1,977 hours of service to the project.

At the current value of volunteer time — $25.43 per hour — that’s more than $50,000 worth of service to their community.

Most Eagle Scout hopefuls find enough helpers within their own troop, but Peter knew he’d need additional help.

To recruit Scouts, Peter visited seven different troops and presented at his Order of the Arrow lodge. At each stop, he made a 20-minute presentation on bioswales, complete with visual aids.

“After my presentations, I would ask the Scoutmasters if there were any ways I could have made my presentation more effective,” Peter says. “I incorporated those suggestions into my future presentations.”

What he learned

An Eagle Scout project offers an excellent lesson in something all of us eventually learn about the working world. We come to understand that our job title is more of a suggestion, and our job responsibilities extend far beyond what was outlined in the job description.

So while an Eagle Scout hopeful might be the project supervisor, they end up doing much more than that.

Peter experienced this lesson first-hand.

He was a project manager, a salesman and a recruiter. He immersed himself in the real-world arenas of logistics, human resources, surveying, gardening and engineering — learning on the job when necessary.

When the borough gave Peter a map of the existing bioswales, he quickly realized it wasn’t accurate. So he and his brother, a mechanical engineer, went out and created their own map.

The trend continued once the project was underway.

“Some days, I was supervisor. Some days I was the chief laborer,” Peter says. “Other days, I was a bioswale engineer, weighing different options to help the bioswale function.”

An ongoing solution

Peter didn’t want his project to be a temporary fix for an ongoing problem. So he used the $3,000 left over from his project to create the Ohiopyle Bioswale Maintenance Fund.

He also successfully persuaded the borough to hire a maintenance official to keep the bioswales operating at peak efficiency. The new official’s on-the-job training should be a breeze, thanks to a document Peter developed alongside his project.

“He created an extremely articulate maintenance manual for the borough to help keep the bioswales functioning properly,” McCarty writes. “The borough of Ohiopyle will be forever grateful to Peter for taking on this project.”

2019 Eagle Scout Projects of the Year

This post is one of a quartet of articles recognizing four outstanding Eagle projects by Class of 2018 Eagle Scouts.

Each project covered in these posts received the Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award, or ESSPY.

The ESSPY process begins at the council level, where each council can nominate one outstanding project to the National Eagle Scout Association. From there, one project from each BSA region — Central, Northeast, Western and Southern — is selected to receive the ESSPY.

Regional ESSPY recipients get $500 for future educational purposes or to attend a national or international Scouting event or facility.

Next, a special selection committee of the National Eagle Scout Association selects a national winner from among those four recipients. The national ESSPY recipient gets $2,500 for future educational purposes or to attend a national or international Scouting event or facility.

2019 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award recipients

  • National winner (representing the Southern Region): Garrett Johnson of Troop 81 in Tulsa, Okla. (Indian Nations Council)
  • Central Region winner: Luke Gwartney of Troop 83 in Olathe, Kan. (Heart of America Council)
  • Northeast Region winner: Peter Livengood of Troop 687 in Dunbar, Pa. (Westmoreland Fayette Council)
    • This post
  • Western Region winner: Zack Moore of Troop 33 in Mountain View, Calif. (Pacific Skyline Council)
    • Read about his project in a future Bryan on Scouting post
About Bryan Wendell 2871 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.