An organizational partnership comprised of federal, state, city, academia and non-governmental organizations provided the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as a whole, information to bolster its environmental missions.
For the first time, the New York District hosted a Chief of Engineer’s Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) meeting in September where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite and Headquarters senior directors met for several hours. Before discussing a range of environmental issues, Col. Thomas Asbery, the Corps’ New York District commander, made welcoming remarks. Topics included environmental operating principles, adaptive management (a decision-making process to reduce uncertainty over time), streamlining regulatory processes and environmental metrics — capturing and communicating how changes in natural resources provide public benefits.
In discussing training and recruitment of personnel, Semonite said, “I want the Corps to be first class.”
ENVIRONMENTAL ADVISORY BOARD BACKGROUND
The EAB, comprised of experts in natural, biological, ecological and social sciences from across the U.S., was created by the Chief of Engineers, Lieutenant General Frederick J. Clarke, in 1970, to give outside, expert and independent advice on environmental issues facing the Corps of Engineers. Throughout its history, the Board has served the Corps as a vehicle of communication to reach out and build partnerships, understanding and cooperation with the Environmental community, and public at large. Meeting with several Army Corps’ Districts each year, the Board also builds partnerships with the environmental community.
One significant item at the meeting was sustainability: ensuring customers receive products and services that provide sustainable solutions addressing short- and long-term environmental, social and economic considerations. In New York, a coastal District, teams study climate variability, adaptation, and building resilience into the infrastructure to better support communities.
To that end, the EAB responded to an Army Corps’ inquiry about how career paths in environmental sustainability could be developed for USACE employees, supporting a USACE objective of growing future sustainability leaders. The following ideas were suggested:
● Clearly define what sustainability means and ensure employees understand the definition and goals for sustainability;
● Define career paths in sustainability; consider creating/revising positions to employ sustainability-specific specialists;
● Encourage formal sustainability instruction, providing a list of 66 college and university programs in the region;
● Create an internal sustainability training program combining existing training content with formal on-the-job training leading to an internal certification process similar to the Corps’ Planning Associates Program and Water Resources Certified Planners.
During the meeting, Peter Weppler, chief of New York’s Environmental Analysis Branch, Planning Division, delivered a presentation titled “Natural- and Nature-Based Features Applications Within New York.” The presentation provided examples of how the District has been supporting an integrated approach to coastal storm risk management by incorporating natural- and nature-based features into project designs. Sample projects discussed were the Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) Reformulation Study, a proposed $1.2 billion project to reduce flooding and damage for an 83-mile stretch of Long Island’s south shore, and the East Rockaway Inlet to Rockaway Inlet-Jamaica Bay Reformulation Study, outlining a variety of features to reduce flood risks to the Rockaway Peninsula, a 12-mile stretch of land facing the Atlantic Ocean in Queens, NY, that was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“The full array of coastal risk reduction measures, including natural or nature-based features, nonstructural and structural measures and combinations of these features proposed in Corps projects, preserve and restore the resiliency of our coastline,” said Weppler, adding, “We [New York] have significant civil works missions and the insights and feedback from the Board are instructive.”
HARBOR INSPECTION & PROJECTS
The visit was more than a meeting: the Board wanted to experience first-hand how people and places were affected by District projects. They took to area waters aboard an Army Corps Drift Collection Vessel HAYWARD, for an inspection of New York-New Jersey Harbor and its environs. The purpose was for the District, partner agency heads and state and local officials to discuss each agencies’ projects, and celebrate the accomplishments of all within the past year. To that end, nearly 90 people from 37 organizations ꟷ federal, state, city, nongovernmental agencies and academia ꟷ participated in the five-hour excursion visiting various project sites.
One major destination was Jamaica Bay in Queens and Brooklyn, NY, where the District is restoring degraded marsh as part of the larger Hudson-Raritan Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Study ꟷꟷ a broad-based, long-term effort to restore the ecology of a vast area spanning a circumference of 25 miles in all directions from the Statue of Liberty off Lower Manhattan.
Board members were impressed with the District’s efforts to maintain existing and build new partnerships with the environmental community and general public. EAB chair Dr. Rollin Hotchkiss, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Brigham Young University, acknowledged that all USACE employees are passionate about the work they do, but New York has raised the bar with a “passion plus” attitude.