October 22nd, 2010

Rebuilding the Everglades through Partnership

Kissimme birds fly around the Florida Everglades.

This week I’m in Florida at Phase II of the District Engineer Course. Much of the discussion centered around transparent communications and the value of partnerships with local communities, and state and federal leaders.  

One of the best examples of an open, quality partnership is here in Florida.  The Florida Everglades is one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is also the major fresh water source for southern Florida and key in the battle against flooding and drought. 

More than a century ago, the environmental benefits of the Everglades were mortgaged in favor of commercial and real estate development, destroying nearly half of the Everglades.  Now, the federal government, state and local authorities are joining together in the largest environmental restoration effort in history called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). 

This plan aims to enhance Everglades’ wetlands and associated lakes, rivers, and bays in the 16-county region of South Florida. CERP projects will capture and store much of the water currently lost to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, ensuring that the biodiversity of the Everglades can be preserved and expanded. 

CERP can’t happen without the cooperation of a variety of agencies and governments. The Corps actively works with the South Florida Water Management District, the Department of the Interior, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the Everglades National Park Service, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management, just to name a few. 

Together, our partnership is working to restore the wetlands to the valuable natural landscape it once was through dozens of projects, including adding 55,000 acres of habitat to the Everglades system.  

Building a strong environment for our Nation through partnership…that’s a lesson worth learning! 

Van

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October 8th, 2010

Helping to Build America’s Bench

One of the most exciting things that I “get to do” is talk to young people across the country and try to encourage and energize them to pursue a career in an engineering field.   These opportunities have become more important in recent years as reports by organizations like the National Science Board show that American students are being outperformed by many of their international peers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. This is particularly important for our future here at the Corps, because two-thirds of our 38,000 civilian employees are professional engineers, environmental science professionals and technical staff.

This week, I’m at the Great Minds in STEM conference in Orlando to help promote STEM to young adults and professionals from all backgrounds and encourage them to not only pursue a STEM career, but to “set the standard for their profession” by becoming leaders in their organizations. 

Furthering STEM awareness to under-represented youth is something the Corps has been doing for many years, (Click here to see more about our recent STEM efforts in San Antonio). And just a few weeks ago we took an even larger step forward when we awarded a contract to MYI Consulting, Inc., to help us host educational outreach events across the Nation as a way to stimulate interest and academic achievement in STEM. 

The students we talk to and young professionals we work with are our future, not just for us but for America.  We, the Corps, are a committed partner in strengthening America’s science, technology, engineering, math and science education.

BUILDING STRONG®

Van

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September 17th, 2010

Army Chief of Staff Thanks USACE

I am proud to share the following letter we recently received from Gen. George W. Casey, the Army’s Chief of Staff.  

Gen. Casey thanks USACE.

Posted by underGulf Coast Recovery, Military Programs, Miscellaneous "neat stuff", Partnership, Uncategorized | Comments (2)

September 2nd, 2010

Preparing for Hurricane Earl

As I write this, powerful Hurricane Earl is spinning in the Atlantic Ocean with winds of more than 125 mph, just off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  According to the experts at the National Hurricane Center, it’s expected to follow the coast up into Canada over the next several days. Although the storm remains offshore for now, hurricane watches and warnings have been issued for coastal areas along nearly the entire eastern seaboard.  As a precaution, some towns have ordered evacuations to ensure the safety and security of their residents. 

Click to watch Hurricane Earl move up the Atlantic Coast, thanks to our friends at NOAA.

The Corps is also preparing to respond in the event of a disaster, and we are putting many of our emergency management personnel on alert and have pre-positioned some of our personal along the Atlantic Coast.  Our role in any event like this is to assist the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA by coordinating and organizing public works and engineering-related support. Our response teams are available to support debris removal, purchase and delivery of essential commodities like water and ice, as well as to provide temporary emergency power, temporary housing, temporary roofing, infrastructure assessment, and support to urban search and rescue missions. 

I pray that Earl stays its course and heads away from the coast.  But should it decide to change course for the worse, our teams are standing by, ready to serve! 

Preparedness is a shared responsibility.  For tips on what you and your family can do to prepare for a hurricane, click here: http://www.ready.gov/america/beinformed/hurricanes.html 

Best, 

Van 

BUILDING STRONG®

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August 26th, 2010

Katrina: Five years later…and building strong!

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®

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August 10th, 2010

Navigation’s Value to the Nation

LTG Van and COL Anderson look over the rail of a boat during a tour of the Chesapeake Bay.

Lt. Gen Van and Col. Anderson, commander of the Baltimore District, discuss navigation while touring the Chesapeake Bay on the Linthicum, a USACE survey vessel.

Last night I had the privilege to represent the 37,000 dedicated men and women of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in throwing out the first pitch before a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a stadium which sits next to the city’s beautiful Inner Harbor.  And while I was honored to participate in this event, I was even more grateful to our Baltimore District for the opportunity to explore the area’s waterways earlier in the day and see first-hand an element of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that few know about, but from which nearly everyone benefits.

Nearly $2 trillion worth of trade travels up, down, in, and out of our Nation’s harbors and waterways.  Baltimore is one of 926 ports and harbors and leads to some of the 12,000 miles of our Nation’s federal channels.  The Corps is responsible for keeping those ports operational and those channels open so that we can provide safe, reliable, efficient, effective and environmentally sustainable waterborne transportation systems for movement of commerce, national security needs, and recreation.  By moving that commerce up and down our rivers, we are helping to reduce stress on land and air transportation systems, and on the environment.

Did you know that a 15 barge tow equals 216 rail cars and 6 locomotives or 1,050 semi-tractor trailer trucks?  Overall, this system of waterways handles over 544 million metric tons of freight annually, keeping this traffic off our overcrowded highways and railroads.  That’s getting ‘er done!

Keeping these rivers and harbors open is a team effort between the Corps and the communities along each mile of the waterway.  We work closely with our partners to ensure we’re operating and maintaining these waterways in the safest and most environmentally sound way possible.  And it’s just another way that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works to build a stronger nation.

Best,
Van

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June 1st, 2010

Corps Works with Interagency Response Team on Oil Spill

From the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has worked closely with other national agencies, the States and others in response to this incident. The environmental consequences of this disaster are expected to be unmatched and unprecedented.

Recently, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority submitted an application requesting emergency authorization for a restoration project that could enhance the capability of some barrier islands to reduce the inland movement of oil from the spill site. Col. Al Lee, New Orleans District commander, approved the emergency permit to Louisiana for portions of this barrier island plan.

For more information about this permit decision please check out: 
http://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/news/view.asp?ID=341

Assisting the nation in a time of disaster is something the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has always done and we stand ready to assist now, and in the future.

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May 5th, 2010

Bracing for Hurricane Season

The word is out. Hurricane Season on the Atlantic is supposed to be a doozy this year. Yesterday’s article in Business Week forecasts 14 to 18 named storms this year. The article quotes the National Hurricane Center stats that the average is “11 named storms with winds of at least 39 mph, six of them reaching the 74-mph threshold for hurricanes and two growing into major storms with winds of 111 mph or more.”

Last year, we caught a break, with the fewest named storms in 12 years. Only three were officially hurricanes, and none of reached land in the U.S. We are prepared and ready for a much more active hurricane season this year.

You may ask yourself, “why is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers involved in Hurricane Season?”  Well, we are part of the federal government’s unified national response to disasters and emergencies.  The Corps assists the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA by coordinating and organizing public works and engineering-related support. We have 49 specially trained response teams ready to perform a wide range of missions, as assigned by FEMA.

We prepare for our missions well before disasters occur.  In preparation for the 2010 hurricane season, we’ve conducted several hurricane exercises – both internally and with local, state and federal agencies – across our organization.

When disasters occur, it is not just a local Corps district or office that responds. Personnel and other resources are mobilized across the country to carry out our response missions.

In any disaster, our top priorities are:

1.    Support immediate emergency response priorities;
2.    Sustain lives with critical commodities, temporary emergency power and other needs; and,
3.    Initiate recovery efforts by assessing and restoring critical infrastructure.

I’d like to just take a moment to emphasize that the risk reduction measures out there, levees and floodwalls, etc., are not “protection.” There’s no such thing as “protection” in a disaster – natural or man-made.  But there are a lot of things we can do to reduce our risk, and that is a shared responsibility – shared between the many public agencies involved, but also shared with you.

Check out FEMA’s Ready Campaign, the federal government’s official readiness campaign site. Another great tool is the “Ready Army” website for specific details about what you can do to prepare. The site was designed for making sure the Army’s workforce and Family members are prepared, but the information is applicable to anyone.

Be smart. Be safe. Be prepared.

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April 21st, 2010

The Nation’s Environmental Engineer

It was April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans joined then Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson to mark the first Earth Day. And now, 40 years later, we’re still marking the occasion. For those of us who are part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it’s one more day in our journey toward ensuring that our actions are sustainable and that we are the very best stewards we can be of this country, of this planet.

The challenges we face are enormous – climate change, renewable energy, green jobs, green remediation, energy reduction, just to name a few. But the opportunities for an organization like ours are equally enormous. We are the nation’s environmental engineer. No other federal agency is addressing environmental issues of the same scope and magnitude as we are, but that’s not to say that we’re doing it alone. We know that addressing the immense environmental challenges of the 21st century requires working in close collaboration and partnership with others.  We continually seek to partner with other federal and state agencies, non-governmental environmental organizations and academia to find innovative solutions to environmental issues.

Since that first Earth Day, Americans have increasingly become aware of the need to be “green.” That goes for USACE as well. We have been looking at the environmental impacts of our work for four decades, going back to the days of Lt. Gen. Frederick J. Clarke, the 43rd Chief of Engineers, who served from 1969 to 1973, and Lt. Gen. Henry J. Hatch, the 48th Chief of Engineers, who, in the early 1990’s, laid out a very eloquent vision for taking care of the environment, a vision that set the foundation for our work today. “Environmental ethics and values must be more than an overlay. They must be a bone-deep part of our way of doing business,” Lt. Gen. Hatch said in 1992. Sound familiar? It should. Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, our 50th Chief of Engineers, said much the same when he introduced our Environmental Operating Principles in 2002, the same principles focusing on sustainability that we continue to apply to all our work today. “We have placed environmental values on an equal footing with economic and engineering concerns in support of environmentally sustainable development,” Flowers said.

The principles, every bit as valid today as they were eight years ago, can’t be an after thought, or a “nice-to-have” thought that we include at the end, they must be considered at the very beginning of each and every project we undertake. The projects we’re undertaking will have lasting impact. Our personnel at the Institute for Water Resources are working collaboratively with other federal agencies and scientists from around the world on several different projects that address climate change challenges. We’ve just hosted an international workshop on designing projects to be resilient in the face of climate variability; we’re planning a workshop on how best to use the climate information that’s being produced; we’re working with the Council on Environmental Quality as it develops a national climate change adaptation strategy; and we’re going to test some new adaptation ideas on projects this year. We’ve established a greenhouse gas reduction target for the Corps of Engineers that addresses the unique challenges posed by our Civil Works sites. The target calls for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent between now and 2020. Achieving that target will allow us to meet the requirements of Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environment, Energy and Economic Performance, which is President Barack Obama’s plan to make the federal government more sustainable. We have two energetic sustainability leaders on board now at the headquarters and are discussing including this skill set at each of our divisions to spearhead our sustainability initiatives across the Corps. A number of our districts are following suit.

And the list goes on – the U.S. Green Building Council presented a Leadership Award to a team of Corps employees for their work in transitioning the Army from the Sustainable Project Rating Tool to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for all military construction projects; our Formerly Used Defense Sites team in Alaska District won the Secretary of the Army Environmental Restoration Team award for its work at Tanaga Island; and we just signed a new memorandum of understanding with The Conservation Fund to promote enhanced conservation and balanced management of our nation’s water resources. All of this shows that although Earth Day has been around for 40 years, the challenges, and opportunities, continue. We will continue to be on the cutting edge of the Army when it comes to taking care of the environment and promoting the sustainability ethic, and not just on Earth Day.

 BUILDING STRONG®

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March 24th, 2010

Spring Flooding: So Far, So Good

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.

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