An artist’s rendering of shoreline protection

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Art, innovation and the environment overlap along Lake Ontario’s shores with help from Novat Shoreline LLC

A marine and construction design company owned by artist Pepsy Kettavong, Novat Shoreline has designed the Smart BreakWall Diversion System to prevent property destruction caused by shoreline erosion from high waves along major bodies of water. 

For decades, shoreline erosion has caused major problems for Lake Ontario’s municipalities and homeowners. 

“We talked to people who’ve been living in Greece for generations and generations where impacts of the high waves have been bad,” Kettavong says. 

Strong lake waves break down sediment naturally, and over time this can lead to destruction of property along the shore. This destruction, combined with flooding and other negative impacts on quality of life for homeowners, inspired Kettavong to take action. 

Kettavong and his team of craftsmen at Novat Shoreline have worked on creating shoreline protection technology that is resilient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

“From the combination of my personal experience and being on-site at the lake, I realized I could come up with better solutions to solve shoreline erosion problems,” Kettavong says. 

Conceptualized and prototyped over the past year, the Smart BreakWall Diversion System absorbs waves and mitigates pounding of the shoreline ground as hard waves hit. When water enters the SBDS chamber every four to six seconds, its internal ladder design breaks and slows waves before angling and diverting them back into the body of water.

SBDS technology essentially redirects energy from waves back into bodies of water without damaging shorelines. It is also specially designed to protect aquatic life and support sustainable water systems that won’t disrupt local ecosystems.

“I designed a system that is the best of both worlds,” Kettavong says. “It stops land from being eroded but is designed in a way where people can enjoy the quality of life rather than being fearful of the waves.” 

Kettavong says the system functions at its best when presented with incredibly intense wave patterns. He hopes to implement the SBDS technology in other bodies of water regionally and globally. 

“With innovative technology and a changing climate in the Great Lakes, I think we’re in the position to blow SBDS up,” Kettavong says. 

Two models have been installed along Lake Ontario in Greece, and Kettavong hopes to acquire new customers in the near future. Launched this week, the company’s informational video on its website targets municipalities, homeowners, businessowners and others looking to install erosion prevention technology. The system costs between $1,550 and $2,000 per foot of shoreline.

Already, Kettavong and his team have spoken with agencies such as New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of State, and the Army Corps of Engineers. 

While Novat Shoreline currently employs fewer than 10, Kettavong would like to grow the business to hundreds of employees or sell units through wholesale and royalties. 

“Over 500 million people around the world can be displaced due to erosion,” Kettavong says. “I see this to be something global because there’s definitely a market.”

SBDS is an alternative to common Gabion-style breakwall systems that use steel cages or rocks to prevent erosion. Kettavong says that because the pressure of waves moves rocks about 4 inches per year, the Gabion method entails the risk of ruining concrete patios or other shoreline structures. 

In addition, rock breakwall systems diminish quality of life for lakeside residents, he says. Rocks accumulate algae that’s easy to slip on, beachfront access is more limited and houses shake as a result of waves crashing against rocks. 

“One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is how rocks move and then residents can’t access the lake. Some have to go to the second story of their home to even enjoy it,” Kettavong says. “It’s important to recognize the elements of aquatic life, but at the same time people are paying bills and spending a lot of money paying taxes to live on the lake. … It’s about the balance.”

Kettavong is primarily known in the Rochester community for his local art installations such as the Let’s Have Tea sculpture near the Susan B. Anthony House and the Nathaniel Rochester statue in Rochester’s South Wedge. In 2017, Kettavong founded Novat Shoreline. Its services include sheet pile, revetment, and breakwall restoration, plus SBDS. He doesn’t view it as a diversion from his craft but rather as an evolution.

“This is a different kind of art form all together because the goal is to make an impact, and SBDS will allow me to make contributions I feel good about,” Kettavong says. “For me, the shoreline is just another canvas.”

Robert Mantell is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer.

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