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President Releases USACE Civil Works Budget

February 14th, 2011

President Obama released the 2012 Civil Works budget today, which outlines the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ non-military funded programs and projects for next year.

Click here for a state-by-state breakdown of the FY 12 Army Civil Works Budget: http://www.usace.army.mil/cecw/pid/pages/cecwm_progdev.aspx

This budget provides an effective pathway for us to help create jobs, support economic development and global competitiveness, and restore and protect critical and vital aquatic ecosystems. It also reflects the realities of our Nation’s fiscal status. As with other federal agencies across government, this year’s budget is less than in prior years, and it is up to us to ensure that we use the funds with which we are entrusted in the most efficient and effective ways possible…and we will!

The greatest percentage of our resources will be used on projects that provide the highest returns on the Nation’s investment. This includes Dam Safety projects that are in the greatest need of repair — we have 692 dams that we either operate or own — projects that will reduce the risk of loss of life, projects that will mitigate environmental losses and advance a number of our environmental missions, and on-going projects that we can complete or make significant progress on with these funds.

We have 92 construction projects in the FY12 budget. This includes 55 flood and storm damage reduction projects, 19 aquatic ecosystem restoration projects, 16 navigation-related projects, and two hydropower mitigation projects.

About 34 percent of the budget supports the nation’s inland waterways and coastal navigation network, which is particularly important when you consider that nearly $2 trillion worth of trade travels up, down, in, and out of U.S. harbors and waterways. The efficient and effective movement of waterborne cargo is a critical component of the national economy, because it reduces the costs of goods and services for American consumers and supports the global competitiveness. The budget also supports projects and studies for a number of significant aquatic ecosystems, including South Florida and the Everglades.

FY 2012 will be an exciting year in our efforts to provide valuable engineering services to our Nation. We are fully committed to supporting the President’s priorities to secure the homeland, revitalize the economy, and restore and protect the environment. We are proud to serve this great Nation, and we look forward to our continued mission of BUILDING STRONG.

Best,

Van

BUILDING STRONG®

Civil Works, Contingency Operations, Levees, Locks and Dams

Katrina: Five years later…and building strong!

August 26th, 2010

The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal surge barrier floodwall the Corps’ largest-ever design-build civil works project. At almost two miles long, this $1.3 billion project is being called the “Great Wall of Louisiana.”

Five years ago, communities along the Gulf Coast experienced devastating loss and damage as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  As the long road to recovery began for thousands of Americans impacted by this tragedy, the Corps was called upon to do their part to help rebuild, restore and reconstruct the Hurricane and Storm Risk Reduction System in the Greater New Orleans area. 

What was once a patchwork of levees, floodwalls and pumps before the hurricanes is becoming a true System that will provide 100-year level perimeter protection against hurricane storm surge to greater New Orleans. Today, the area already has the best perimeter defense in its history, and work continues at a record pace. We are driving hard to have in place a system that can defend against a 100-year storm by June 2011. 

We are working towards this goal by using the best science, technology and talent available, leveraging the knowledge and capability of our partners in industry, architect-engineer firms, members of academia and international counterparts.  Together, we are developing and applying state-of-the-practice engineering solutions to the Hurricane and Storm Risk Reduction System and across coastal Louisiana. 

With this scientific expertise, we were able to design and have nearly completed construction on the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier, the Corps’ largest-ever design-build civil works project. At almost two miles long, this $1.3 billion project is being called the “Great Wall of Louisiana,” and it is one of the key components in the Hurricane and Storm Risk Reduction System’s ability to defend against the effects of a 100-year storm.  Another key component of the system is the nearly $1 billion West Closure Complex, a gated surge barrier containing the largest drainage pump station in the world – now at 40% complete after only one year of construction. 

Other major work accomplished since Katrina includes: 

•     completion of all pump station repairs 

•     completion of one-third of pump station storm proofing projects 

•     raising the height of more than 15 miles of levees and 2.5 miles of floodwalls throughout the West Bank 

An unprecedented number of construction contracts has been awarded for this mission (more than 270), and more than $9 billion obligated.  What’s even more exciting is that about $2.3 billion has been awarded directly to Small and Disadvantaged Businesses, and more than 60% of these awards have gone to Louisiana-based businesses. 

We are committed to providing a system that will defend against the effects of a 100-year storm by June 2011.  But we aren’t done.  Work will continue beyond 2011 to complete other features of the system.  We will continue to use all available resources and Corps expertise across the Nation to deliver this essential system to the citizens of Greater New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana, and together with our state, local and federal partners, we will get ‘er done! 

Best, 

Van 

BUILDING STRONG®

Civil Works, Gulf Coast Recovery, Levees , ,

Spring Flooding: So Far, So Good

March 24th, 2010

You may have seen the news that so far, the situation is stable in the Midwest, and we had a major flood with minimal damage in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota – despite extremely high water levels and lots of snow melt.  I’m really proud of the tremendous efforts we’ve had, alongside our state and local partners, in preparing for potential flooding in those areas.

Right now, we have 116 USACE personnel engaged in the Midwest; we’ve handed out 320,500 sandbags, 37 pumps, and a little over 5 miles of HESCO Bastion, which is a large metal and mesh structure used to temporarily make levees taller. We have also installed numerous miles of temporary levees, which are reducing the risk of flooding throughout North Dakota.

Here’s a video story that can help you understand what we’re dealing with in the Midwest right now:



All these emergency preparations were ironically underway right in the middle of Flood Safety Awareness Week, so I’d like to take a moment to share with you some important information about flooding – because it’s not just a Midwest issue, at all.

Flooding is the most common, costly and deadly natural disaster in the United States each year.  Because of an unusually wet and snowy winter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is anticipating particularly harsh spring floods for much of the country this year.  It’s important that you be prepared for possible flooding and do what you can to protect your family, home and property. Preparedness is important even if you don’t live in high-risk flood areas.     

There are a number of things you can do to better prepare for flooding and reduce your risks.  Check out this Web site – www.Ready.gov  – for some great, useful information.

Emergency Response, Levees

Levee Vegetation and Public Safety

June 11th, 2009

There is an Associated Press article out today that requires a direct response, because it is inaccurate in many ways. The article is about the Corps’ Levee Vegetation Policy, which has been in existence for decades.

First, let me just correct the record.

Error: The Corps ordered thousands of trees chopped down.

Fact: The Corps notifies levee project sponsors of operation and maintenance deficiencies, which may include vegetation, animal burrows, encroachments, and closure structures.  These deficiencies must be corrected to remain eligible in this voluntary program for federal rehabilitation and repair assistance following a flood. 

Error: The Corps “is on a mission to chop down every tree in the country that grows within 15 feet of a levee…..”

Fact: The mission of the Corps’ levee safety program is to make sure levee systems are reliable and do not present unacceptable risks to the public, property or the environment, with the emphasis on public safety.  The Corps has specific authorities for approximately 2,000 levees, or 14,000 miles across the country; not the 100,000 miles stated by the AP. 

Error: The anti-tree policy arose from criticism directed at the Corps after Katrina.

Fact: The Corps’ vegetation management standards are not new, and the Corps has considered them critical to flood damage reduction project reliability for decades. 

The bottom line is – Public safety is the number one priority of the Corps Levee Safety Program and the consequences of Operation and Maintenance issues, like having vegetation on levees, floodwalls or dams, go beyond the possibility of a breach or failure.  While vegetation and other encroachments can harm the structural integrity of the infrastructure, it can also obscure visibility for visual inspections, impede access for maintenance and inspection, and/or hinder emergency flood fighting operations. Operation and maintenance is a critical component to overall public safety.

I’ve seen levees with garages, storage sheds and pools built into them, and I’ve seen trees ripped out of a levee by flood waters.          

We’ve flood-fought levees where tree roots cause seepage through and under levees and where tree roots clogged critical drainage structures such as relief wells. We’ve even seen tree roots damage flood walls and steel sheet piling. Fortunately, we’ve been able to find these problems and intervene just in time with safety measures before the levee breaches but we must not rely on intervention, but provide greater reliability through well maintained infrastructure.

The bottom line with any levee system is that you are only as strong as your weakest link – so we must have clear policies and standards, which include vegetation management, consistently applied and enforced through continuous and periodic inspections and assessments.

The Corps’ policies on vegetation are based on available engineering and scientific data – and they have been validated with an Independent External Peer Review and Independent Technical Review.

Existing scientific literature doesn’t conclusively validate or invalidate our vegetation standards.  But we are looking into it – we are in the midst of a two-year research program to enable reassessment of our engineering-based understanding of the public safety consequences of vegetation on flood damage reduction projects.

Any change to current USACE vegetation management policy and standards will be based upon sound engineering and science, and will not adversely affect public safety – because that is our #1 priority.

Infrastructure, Levees , , , , ,

Flood Fighting on the Red River

March 31st, 2009

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to be fully engaged in the flood fighting efforts in the Upper Midwest our Nation. As our Soldiers and Civilians work around the clock, our thoughts are with the many families who have been impacted by this event.

We are doing everything we can to help cope with the rising waters. Our folks on the ground have been working very closely with the local, state and federal agencies to help protect communities in North Dakota and Minnesota in the Red River Basin. Beginning in the recent weeks leading up to the flooding, we have supplied nearly 10 million sandbags, more than 101 water pumps and overseen the construction of several miles of emergency levees and emergency levee raises to support the fight against rising waters. We currently have 170 Corps employees engaged in this response, including 10 Soldiers from our 249th Engineer Battalion who are working to supply emergency power to the region.

While the National Weather Service has announced that the water level has crested in one of the areas facing the most danger, Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., the danger has yet to pass. It will be days before the waters recede back to below flood stage levels, which is why engineers, officials and volunteers are all keeping a close watch on the emergency levees and sandbag levees that are being put under a tremendous strain as they hold back the waters of the Red River.

We will to continue to work with local, state and federal officials to do all we can to assist the residents of these impacted communities.

Emergency Response, Levees , , , ,

Returning Home

September 26th, 2008

Earlier this week, residents returned to their homes on Galveston Island for the first time since Hurricane Ike roared through the Texas coast. For many families, they came home to a scene of devastation, destruction, and loss. Please join me in praying that they will have hope for the future, wisdom as to what to do next, and strength for the long hard days ahead.

One of our teammates takes applications for Blue Roofs in Texas

One of our teammates takes applications for Blue Roofs in Texas

Returning home is the first step towards recovering from this challenging event. Their return would not be possible if not for the efforts of hundreds of dedicated men and women of our Corps Family across the nation who so worked hard with our federal, state, and local partners.

Together, we installed generators to provide critical power, delivered life-sustaining ice and water, and provided valuable temporary roofing and debris removal services and expertise.

To the volunteers who deployed to assist our Galveston teammates, and those back at home who carried a little more weight to continue your missions, I’m grateful for your hard work and determination. It’s moments and days like these that highlight why I am so honored to be a part of this great family.

We've contracted crews and more than 80 trucks to help clear interstate of debris

We've contracted crews and more than 80 trucks to help clear interstate of debris

We still have a long way to go to fully recover from Hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Katrina, but days like today serve as a reminder that together we can overcome anything!

Keep on BUILDING STRONG.

Emergency Response, Gulf Coast Recovery, Levees , ,

Going Above and Beyond

September 11th, 2008

As we speak, Hurricane Gustav recovery operations are in full swing and Hurricane Ike is bearing down on the Texas Coast…

The constructed portions of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction System in New Orleans performed admirably- just as they were designed to do.  We have completed 120 of 350 contracts needed to bring the system to the 100 year level, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Our team in New Orleans under the leadership of Karen Durham-Aguilara, COL Al Lee, and COL Jeff Bedey have done amazingly well in getting us to this point – and truly helped reduce the risk for the people of New Orleans.

At the peak of Hurricane Gustav’s attack on the Gulf Coast, a member of New Orleans District demonstrated exceptional selfless service and personal courage.

Billy Zar, the captain of one of our debris-removal tug boats, and his team saw a 500-gallon fuel tank floating in dangerously high water in the Industrial Canal. They knew that if the tank were to hit the flood wall or other important structures, there could have been grave consequences.   So, acting on instinct and courage – and taking the appropriate safety precautions (including a life line tied to him, manned by his teammates), Billy jumped into the water and corralled the 500-gallon tank, possibly saving countless lives and protecting property.  Check out the whole story here.

Truth be known, he went into the water at least three times that day.  His heroism and the support of his team are testimony to our most valuable asset… our people.  And while we know that we still have a long way to go in restoring and improving flood risk reduction to the city of New Orleans, heroes like Billy Zar reinforce my confidence that we have the right people doing the right things to make it happen.

BUILDING STRONG

Emergency Response, Gulf Coast Recovery, Levees , , , , ,

Bracing For Gustav

August 30th, 2008

Today is the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and we are busy readying for Hurricane Gustav! As people throughout the Gulf Coast brace for the storm, and take all the necessary precautions, we stand ready to support the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA in the many mission areas we have in disaster response: debris removal; buying and delivering water, ice and other critical necessities; providing temporary power, housing and roofing; infrastructure assessment; and support to urban search and rescue missions.

While a large portion of the Gulf Coast may face Gustav’s landfall, much of the Nation’s attention is focused on the storm’s threat to Southeast Louisiana. It’s important to understand that New Orleans now has the best Hurricane and storm damage reduction system in its history. The system is stronger than pre-Katrina. Many levees are now internally stronger, better constructed, armored with cement on the top to prevent dirt from washing away, and have improved floodwalls. There is stronger construction than before at Hurricane Katrina breach sites, and transition points between flood walls and levees have been strengthened.

In the New Orleans metropolitan area, the gates and temporary pumping stations built after Katrina at the mouths of the three outfall canals are ready. Computerized systems remotely monitor water levels in the canals, and interior pump stations have been repaired and improved.

Preparing additional protection in preparation for Hurricane Gustav

Preparing additional protection in preparation for Hurricane Gustav

As an innovative flood-fighting measure, to provide even more support, we are placing sand-filled HESCO baskets along an 1800-foot section of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal and Lock’s west floodwall, to alleviate the risk of water pressure from potential high water levels in the canal.

 

We're doing everything we can to brace for Gustav!

We're doing everything we can to brace for Gustav!

We also have three contracts for light helicopter support to quickly deploy flood fighting teams, and an agreement with the Coast Guard, so that as soon as the weather clears, they’ll fly us around to survey the area for damage.

We are working closely with the parish and state leaders, the National Guard, and FEMA to protect the people of the Gulf Coast. I am confident that we are all much better prepared to respond to a storm today, than we were three years ago – and that is a direct result of the selfless, dedicated efforts of so many of you.

For those of you in the possible path of the storm, and the hundreds of volunteers who will deploy if needed to help with the flood-fight and recovery, please be safe. Our prayers are with you, and all who may be affected by Gustav.

Emergency Response, Gulf Coast Recovery, Levees , , , , , ,

Update: Flooding in America’s Heartland

July 15th, 2008

We’ve been a bit busy around here with the Midwest floods and all.  The good news is, the water is receding, and we are working with key stakeholders on a long term recovery plan for the people in America’s Heartland.

I just want to say how impressed I am with the selflessness and fortitude of the people I met on my trips out there during the height of the disaster. It’s humbling to see so many people who, in the most difficult of circumstances, still reach out to help their neighbors by filling sandbags and floodfighting. I saw good  people pulling together in a most extraordinary way!

One amazing case in point – Clarksville, Missouri. I toured this historic little river town-a town with no levee protection- with their courageous mayor. The people of Clarksville really pulled together and built a temporary levee of sandbags – and it held. Some of the homes were impacted, but the passion and hard work of the folks there really saved their downtown area. It was an amazing sight. 

This is a picture of me getting interviewed by an Associated Press reporter, with the sandbag levee behind us

This is me doing an interview with an AP reporter, Jim Salter, with the "sandbag levee" behind us

I want to offer special recognition to the National Guard units from all of the states – exceptional work!

And our Corps employees did us proud- working around the clock to “get ‘er done”: from shoring up levees, to inspecting dams, to providing water, temporary power and housing assistance.  They answered the call! The rebuilding effort continues today. I just heard that in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we’re building a modular village of 35 buildings to house the school district employees in time for the new school year.

My thoughts and prayers remain with all the people who were impacted by the flooding, and I want to assure you that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will stand with you through this recovery!

Emergency Response, Levees , , , , ,

Flooding in America’s Heartland

June 12th, 2008

Throughout the Midwest today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with state and local levee districts, emergency responders, elected officials and other federal agencies to coordinate flood fighting activities. Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa are among the hardest hit right now, and Missouri and Nebraska are on alert.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people who live in the affected areas, and with our teammates, who are once again on the scene when the Nation needs us.

Extreme flooding in Indiana

Extreme flooding in Indiana

As of today (June 12, 2008), a total of 1,676,700 sandbags and 79 pumps have been issued to support state requests for assistance. There are currently 152 of our dedicated employees engaged in the response effort, and I expect more are on their way.

We are also supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s efforts, by providing technical assistance for dam inspections and debris. In addition, we’re providing engineering and environmental expertise to FEMA’s housing planning team – which is an interagency group that works with the state to identify what housing options are available to meet the needs of that specific area.

In Iowa, we’ve really taken on a new and unique role when it comes to commodities, like tarps, drinking water or ready to eat meals. We’re helping state and local officials build their capabilities when it comes to ordering, delivering and distributing those goods. We’re coordinating with the state and local governments to provide temporary power to critical public facilities in Iowa, as well.

We’ve got a deep bench of seasoned pros who are already on this, and people coming out of the woodwork volunteering to help. I’m so proud to be a part of this team.

Emergency Response, Levees , , , , , ,