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WEDA Eastern Chapter Annual Meeting, Day One, Covers Broad Terrain with Diverse Speakers

About 90 participants gathered for the two-day event. The first day for the WEDA Eastern Chapter meeting topics included a focus on Florida dredging issues and other environmental and safety issues, as well as Corps updates.

About 90 participants gathered for the two-day event. The first day for the WEDA Eastern Chapter meeting topics included a focus on Florida dredging issues and other environmental and safety issues, as well as Corps updates.

Dylan Davis, navigation program manager, Corps South Atlantic Division, addressed the impacts and response from Hurricane Matthew.

Back to back meetings of the Western Dredging Association (WEDA) Eastern Chapter and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Eastern Region Dredging Conference on consecutive days drew a large audience of some 90 participants from the Corps and the private dredging sector. 

From left, Mark Sickles, Chris Champigny, Chuck Broussard and Keith Lindsay, all of Weeks Marine, with Tim Rooney, Corps Philadelphia District.

As members of WEDA’s Eastern Chapter gathered for the annual meeting on October 25, 2016, at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the camaraderie of the group became clear at the registration desk and during the welcome breakfast. This yearly gathering is one of the many ways WEDA reaches out to the Corps on behalf of its members. The meeting was officially opened by Michael Gerhardt, president of the WEDA Eastern Chapter, with “a special thank you for the support of the partners and contractors and to all of WEDA’s strategic partners, gold and silver sponsors and media partners.” Gerhardt also predicted that the line-up of this year’s speakers would provide “some insightful, perhaps unexpected, information.” And indeed it did.

On the banner, WEDA’s Strategic Partners: Port Ever-glades, Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA) and CIP-OAS; Gold Sponsors: JF Brennan, Cash-man Dredging, Cottrell Contracting, DCA, Dutra Dredg-ing, Manson Construction, Marinex Construction, Mobile Dredging and Pumping, Norfolk Dredging, Weeks Ma-rine; Silver Sponsors: Clean Earth, DSC Dredge, EA En-gineering, GBA, JT Cleary, Ryzhka, and Southern Dredg-ing; and Media Partners: DredgingToday.com, IDR, IHS Markit, and World Dredging Mining and Construction.

Tim Murphy, deputy district engineer, Corps Jacksonville District, was next up to welcome the group on behalf of the Corps, mentioning that the Corps of Engineers work represented $452 million in the Jacksonville District, that new jobs are coming up and that Jacksonville is growing. “The dredging industry and the Corps are focusing on the hard stuff and that no matter what anyone says, there is nothing routine about routine maintenance,” Murphy said. 

CORPS UPDATE: NAVIGATION PROGRAM

Jeff McKee, chief of the Navigation Branch, navigation program manager at Corps Head-quarters, followed with a “Navigation Update.” McKee explained that “the movement of commerce and navigational safety have been the Corps’ focus in recent years and that recreation has been low keyed.” He reminded the audience that the United States water network consists of “13,000 miles of coastal waters, 12,000 miles of inland waterways, 800 bridges and 900 other structures.” 

He added, “We are all awaiting the next appropriations in the form of the continuing resolution due in December. Meanwhile draft bills for Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018 are in the process of being developed and defended state by state.” These will address Operations and Maintenance for critical infrastructure, including funds for the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MRT), for Flood Risk Management, Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration, navigation and other multipurpose uses. McKee also emphasized the President’s “We Can’t Wait” Initiative for the ports of New York/New Jersey, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville and Miami for post-Panamax port projects and studies. WRDA 2016 also provides for the assessment of breakwaters and jetties. A positive note is that “contributed funds” can sometimes eliminate the need for prior appropriations, which means that projects can start up much more quickly. This is a good change in cost sharing, according to McKee, however, “we are still constrained by funding, it’s a challenge to do studies, and the cost of business – except for fuel – is increasing. This all makes it a challenge to reach state-of-the-art depths in the context of the deep-draft vessels traversing the Panama Canal.” He did mention, however, that supple-mental funds were pending for damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. Matthew, which mostly bypassed Florida and primarily devastated North Carolina, was a recurring subject of concern during the meeting.  

McKee’s final message concerned stakeholders and partners, asking them “to keep working together to communicate the value of Corps programs, engage end-users and advocate toward our decision makers.” 

FLORIDA FOCUS: PORT EVERGLADES, INTRA-COASTAL WATERWAY, FIND

The focus turned to Florida when Dr. Natacha Yacinthe, seaport planning manager at Port Everglades, just 15 minutes from the conference venue, took the podium. Port Everglades, she recounted, “is an economic powerhouse” pointing to “its seaport-airport connection, and its ranking as the number three cruise port in the world.” It is also the largest container port in Florida, and capital improvements at the port will reach $1.6 billion in investments in the next few years, including plans for deepening the navigation channels. 

Florida stayed in the picture when the next speaker Brad Pickel, executive director of the advocacy group Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA), stepped up. Pickel’s vision is to see the 1,100 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway, stretching from Norfolk to Florida Bay as “a marine interstate highway, the backbone of marine transportation.” He maintains that the country “has an unrealized capacity on this East Coast waterway that can provide clean freight transportation, with many products that can best be shipped by water instead of trucks.” 

Mark Crosley, executive director of the Florida Inland Navigation District, provided a general overview of operations in Florida, picking up on the AIWA theme of a 12-foot deep and 90-foot wide intracoastal maritime high-way. Crosley traced the history of the waterway, which was first privately owned and then purchased by the state of Florida for development in the late 1920s. He clearly wishes that “gov-ernment would be proactive, not reactive” in this way. The legacy of Florida’s proactive policy is that the state remains one of the few states – North Carolina being another – that have a non-federal funding stream for dredged material management.

OTHER TOPICS ADDRESS ENVIRONMENTAL, SAFETY AND TRAINING ISSUES

Attention then returned to the impacts and response to Hurricane Matthew. Dylan Davis, navigation program manager of the Corps South Atlantic Division, explained how the Corps Emergency Management Group, which includes the Coast Guard, NOAA and FEMA, swung into action during the category 4 hurricane, holding seven briefings a day, coordinating survey boats, and the Corps tag teaming with the Coast Guard. North Carolina’s coast and inland waters are going to need a great deal of repair work and “Congressional money is being requested as a storm supplemental for jetty overwash, jetty stone displacement and severely eroded beaches,” Davis said. Other areas, like Jacksonville and Flagler beaches in Florida, where the A1A collapsed, are obviously going to need help as well. 

Moving on to an issue which may not be an emergency, but nonetheless requires long-term planning, was Doug Piatkowski’s presentation on “Partnering with Industry and Sea Turtle Technical Experts in the Development of a Decision Support Tool to Reduce Dredging Entrainment Risk.” Piatkowski is a physical scientist at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and is midway through a two-year study as part of the Marine Minerals Program. This program seeks to establish the whereabouts of sand re-sources and at the same time manage risk factors to sea turtles, by “getting industry and turtle people together to identify risks and develop a suite of mitigation measures.” Again, this is a multi-agency initiative with NOAA, BOEM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey and the U.S. Navy. 

Turning to specific technical subjects, Pete Weber, chief operations officer, of DOC (Depth of Cover) Mapping, and Jonathan Sperka, technical director at Ordnance Holdings, Inc. ex-plained the need for knowledge about underwater hazards before and during dredging. Speaking of his company, Weber emphasized, “All we do is mapping and looking for underwater pipelines and other cables, using probes and subbottom profiling. We employ acoustic instruments like multibeams or electromagnetic remote surveys and modeling which vary in price and accuracy.” Admittedly, such data collection can cost upwards of $10,000 per day, but it is crucial, he stressed. “While developing a dredge plan, authorities should get in touch with utilities companies and save time by getting information as far as possible in advance.” Aware that no national system exists, Weber’s group DOC advocates for a minimum standard for dredging safety.

Sperka’s Ordnance Holdings, Inc. also works on underwater obstacles but in the specialized area of unexploded ordnance (UXOs). In his presentation, “The Right Tool for the Job: A Review of Techniques and Technologies for Locating Buried Underwater Utilities at Dredging Sites – Managing UXO/MEC during Dredging Projects,” he pointed out the variety of dangerous materials lying on the seabed off the East Coast. UXOs can be chemical weapons or old ammunition that was innocently dumped at sea at a time when people didn’t know better. Munitions and Explosives of Concern (MEC) are dangerous and dredging contractors should be aware that they should “never say never. When authorities say there is ordnance, there is. But if they say there isn’t, it remains questionable.”  

On a less technical, more human note, Ms. Lee Goldman, business manager of the Mid‐At-lantic Maritime Academy, spoke to the audience on “Training the Next Generation of the Mari-time Workforce.” Goldman’s academy is a non-profit that has been helping military personnel transition to commercial jobs. The organization also helps dislocated workers and out of school youths to train for the maritime industries. After intensive training, students are placed in intern-ship programs, and Goldman hopes, “that the dredging industry might be able to find some of their future employees from engineers to deck hands” among her trainees. She directly asked any dredging companies that might have an in-ternship available to step forward. 

DREDGING IN SOUTH AMERICA

The last two sessions of this fully packed day took an interesting turn, focusing on South America and the ongoing and potential dredging works of interest to the industry. Ernesto Fernandez, senior international trade consultant at the Inter‐American Committee on Ports of the Organization of American States (CIP-OAS) headquartered in Washington, D.C., started the conversation. Highlighting the mutual concerns of human rights and security among the 34 OAS nations in the Western Hemisphere, he pointed out that dredging stretches across a number of waterbodies. It covers corporate social responsibility and gender equality in the maritime area, the risk assessment of ship wrecks and hazardous materials and fuel in the region. And of course, he underscored the importance of the Panama Canal expansion to the hemisphere. But not only Panama is on the radar. “Transshipment through the area means the Bahamas, Jamaica and Brazil are also vying to become regional logistics hubs.” 

Continuing this focus was John S. Kavulich II, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. The council is a non-profit that seeks to open business doors between the United States and Cuba. Pointing out that the Port of Mariel, Cuba has more than 11 million citizens and is only 45 minutes from Havana, the idea that “Cuba as a transshipment port could surpass other Caribbean Sea countries is not a dream.” Mariel has been growing steadily and, according to Kavulich, is posed to make a big jump in trade capacity by 2019. Indeed legislation is changing, exports to and from Cuba are evolving and U.S. companies – including dredging contractors – should be taking a good look at “the infrastructure that will be necessary to accommodate hundreds of thousands of U.S. visitors.” 

This was an inspiring peek into the future of dredging operations in the Western Hemisphere and a great way to end a day of in-depth presentations. Luckily, the day was not quite over. A networking reception was held, giving everyone a chance to relax and make further contact with the speakers and other attendees. 

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