Horsley Witten: Environmental Consultants for the Cape and beyond

Q. Horsley Witten would most simply be defined as environmental consultants - what does that mean and why does it matter?

A. As environmental consultants, we work with clients to provide sustainable solutions while protecting the natural environment. This occurs at all phases of a project. For example, as a first phase, a town might hire our planners to identify where the best places are for recreation fields, with a focus on avoiding impacts to sensitive areas like wetlands or streams. In the next phase of the project, our landscape architects and engineers would design these facilities using techniques that include sustainable landscaping, innovative stormwater management, wastewater design, and other strategies that provide environmental benefits. In the final phase, our civil engineers would supervise construction and train municipal staff on how to maintain these facilities. Ideally, we’re involved with projects from the earliest planning phase all the way through to implementation.

Osterville Rain Garden with Town and APCC.jpg

Sustainable planning and design requires an integrated approach to development that considers existing conditions, natural resource protection, and opportunities for restoring natural systems. The idea is to create “green infrastructure” that looks beautiful but also provides flood water storage, coastal protection, and wildlife habitat. This approach is more important than ever given the cumulative impacts from development that we’re seeing on wildlife populations, human health, water quality, and even weather patterns.

Q. A lot of people might know you for your work with governments, but do you do jobs for regular people?

A. It is true that a significant portion of our work is done for government agencies at all levels. There is a steady demand from these agencies for site design services, regulatory reform, community planning, staff training, facilitation, and the development of technical guidance materials. But beyond government agencies, there are lots of groups and individuals who seek us out for all kinds of projects—big and small. For example, homeowners may require custom solutions for waterfront properties, landscaping, or on-site wastewater systems. Larger developers may need us to strategically design “green” stormwater management systems on urban sites. Watershed groups may look to us for help identifying opportunities to restore ecological health to wetlands, rivers, and streams. Community groups may want us to organize a local conversation around the benefits of green space and community gardens. Universities often hire us to redesign campus elements like parking areas to include state-of-the-art stormwater management systems.

Regardless of the client or the scale of the project, the approach is the same. Avoid impacts wherever possible. Reduce impacts where disturbance can’t be avoided. Mitigate impacts from previous development and improve conditions wherever possible.

Hawaii Rain Garden Project.jpg

Q. You guys also work off-Cape - can you tell us about some of the projects you have worked on outside of the continental US?

A. Yes, two of our most interesting geographic focuses include the Pacific and Caribbean Islands. We’ve worked in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, British Virgin Islands, Mustique, Bahamas, Hawaii, CNMI (Saipan, Rota), Guam, American Samoa, and the Republic of Palau. These islands are home to some of the most unique ecological systems on the planet with mangrove habitat, offshore reefs, tropical forests, and volcanic formations. Natural systems like these have unique management needs and we’ve helped islanders develop watershed plans to protect paradise from the impacts of land based sources of pollution. We’ve built rain gardens, evaluated the implications of future hotel construction, provided training, and developed guidance manuals that speak to the unique conditions of these island systems. Last summer, as part of our own commitment to these regions, we sponsored the film “Chasing Coral” at the Woods Hole Film Festival to help raise awareness of the dangers facing some of these amazing resources.

Beyond our work in the islands, HW has gone across the border to Canada where we helped develop a drinking water protection program in Ottawa using some of the most advanced modeling techniques available at the time. In Nicaragua, we worked locally, on-site, to help educate people about different techniques that would help ensure long-term access to clean water.

Q. How about some local projects?

A. Yes the international work sounds glamorous, but our roots are here on Cape Cod and our portfolio certainly shows HW’s deep connection to this region. Projects go back to our founding year in 1988. Currently, we have active projects in Barnstable, Bourne, Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Mashpee, Nantucket, Oak Bluffs, Orleans, Provincetown, Sandwich, and Wellfleet—but we’ve certainly been active in every town in Barnstable County and the islands.

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Recently, we completed green parking lot projects for both Mass Maritime Academy and Heritage Museums & Gardens. Work in Brewster has focused on issues ranging from the health of local ponds to impacts related to future sea level rise. Infrastructure projects include work for the Steamship Authority, Mashpee Commons, Barnstable Airport, roadwork in Sandwich, and wastewater solutions at Kingman Marina in Cataumet. Environmental restoration projects include the Lake Elizabeth Fish Ladder, Quashnet Bog restoration in Mashpee, and the ongoing marsh restoration at Crosby Landing Beach.

Q.How can people incorporate sustainable design principles into their own lives?

A.There’s a lot residents and business owners can do to make a measurable impact on our environment using sustainable design principles. Beginning with your yard, simple landscaping choices are important. Look for ways you can eliminate turf from your yard. If there are areas where you simply don’t use the lawn, consider replacing it with low-maintenance, perennial, native plants and shrubs. Most nurseries carry lots of varieties of these plants now, and the benefits are numerous. Fertilizer use goes down (fertilizer is actually a pollutant), water use goes down, and valuable habitat is added right in your back yard. Even small patches of native plants can serve as popular “watering hole” for bees and other pollinators.

Beyond landscaping, other projects you can do at home focus on water resource management. An easy fix for your property, for example, is the addition of a rain barrel. Where you do need to water plants, storing reserves in rain barrels will help lower your “hydrologic footprint.” If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, consider installing your own rain garden...it’s easier than you might think.


HW is a full-service environmental science and engineering firm with offices located in Sandwich, Boston, Providence, and Exeter, NH.

HW is a full-service environmental science and engineering firm with offices located in Sandwich, Boston, Providence, and Exeter, NH.