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WEDA Annual Conference in Houston Brings Together Industry, the Galveston Engineer District and the Port

Tom Verna, WEDA executive director; Esteban Saenz, executive vice president of operations for the Panama Canal Authority, Ram Mohan, WEDA president, and Marcel Hermans, WEDA vice president, at the WEDA Dredging Summit & Expo. Saenz spoke at the hosted luncheon on June 24 about the Panama Canal expansion project.

Tom Verna, WEDA executive director; Esteban Saenz, executive vice president of operations for the Panama Canal Authority, Ram Mohan, WEDA president, and Marcel Hermans, WEDA vice president, at the WEDA Dredging Summit & Expo. Saenz spoke at the hosted luncheon on June 24 about the Panama Canal expansion project.

WEDA President Ram Mohan introduces keynote speaker Col. Richard P. Pannell, commander and district engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District.

The Western Dredging Association (WEDA) hosted the Dredging Summit & Expo 2015 in Houston, Texas, from June 22 to 25. About 300 attendees gathered for presentations and awards, and they spent time in the sold-out exhibit hall.

The conference included a pre-conference tour to NASA Houston, a post-conference tour to the Port of Houston, and a continuing education short course on Monday, June 22, on The 5 Rs of Environment Dredging. The social events included a hosted reception, a Young WEDA Icebreaker and the conference dinner and awards.

Ram Mohan, WEDA president, welcomed attendees at the opening plenary session on Tuesday, June 23. The leadership at WEDA has made efforts to schedule the conferences in areas with interesting projects and dredging activity, as Mohan pointed out is evident by the location at the busy Houston ship channel.

Michael Gerhardt, Dredging Contractors of America and president of the WEDA Eastern Chapter, presents the DCA/WEDA Best Paper Award, for “The Impact Wear Behaviour of Large Rocks on Slurry Pump Materials and Equipment,” by Robert Visintainer, GIW Indutries, and Dan Wolfe, Syncrude Canada. Gerhardt also won the 2015 Dredger of the Year award.

Mohan also said it was fitting to have a conference in Houston, as this was the location, in the 1980s, where the beneficial use practices for dredged material started. Beside him, also sat representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Port of Houston, whose organizations at the time worked together in partnership to solve the problem of what to do with dredged material and how to turn it into a resource.

For future WEDA initiatives, Mohan cited partnerships with other organizations, such as the Organization of American States (OAS). The D.C.-based group includes many political leaders from South and Central America, where WEDA hopes to increase its membership and influence. Mohan said WEDA is more focused initially on Mexico and Canada, and is close to forming new chapters and meetings in those areas.

After an introduction to WEDA’s purpose and future plans, Mohan introduced the one of the keynote speakers Col. Richard P. Pannell, commander and district engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District.

Sue Swear and Michael Higgs, Higgs Hydrographic Tek.

The colonel welcomed the crowd to coastal Texas, where there is enormous opportunities for dredging, Pannell said.

“There’s enormous opportunities to improve infrastructure in coastal Texas and streamline our processes as we move forward,” Pannell said, and his talk that day focused on some of the things the Corps has been doing to improve its organization and processes.

Pannell said the Corps of Engineers is in the middle of a Civil Works transformation, which centers around delivering solutions to water resource challenges and effective projects faster, cheaper and more efficiently, and more in sync with each other.

In Galveston, the growing economy requires these changes, and a big part of delivering better and faster projects and infrastructure improvements, Pannell said, involves broadening and strengthening the Corps partnerships with nonfederal sponsors.

Robert Ramsdell, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., who chairs the technical paper committee, thanked the authors for their hard work and encouraged attendees to thank them with by asking good questions and thinking about writing their own papers. “Think about the issues that are critical to our industry and what you can contribute,” Ramsdell said. The next abstract deadline for conference papers is September 15.

“This is a challenging time for us, as the organization changes,” Pannell said, “and here at the Galveston District, we often find ourselves at the forefront of change for the entire Corps of Engineers. It seems that we are embraced and engaged in activities that no one else in the Corps is doing or that no one else has done before.” Pannell went on to share some examples of the leadership and work at the Galveston District that has impacted the dredging industry.

Key to the future success of water resources project in coastal Texas, Pannell said, is understanding what the Corps’ partners need. In working with agencies like the port or the Texas General Land Office, the Corps want to develop a shared vision that will meet everyone’s needs. “And we tailor it over time, so it’s not static,”Pannell said, “so we’re open to new ideas for change.”

The federal government alone cannot foot the bill to maintain the country’s infrastructure, and the Corps, he said, needs to support its nonfederal sponsors, now more than ever.

Charlie Jenkins from the Port of Houston spoke at the Opening Plenary Session.

Despite the challenges, there is a unique opportunities in the Houston area and the port, where hundreds of billions of dollars of commerce is flowing, to greatly improve the navigation system. The Port of Houston has one or more projects in varying stages of development in all six of its deep draft channels, and the opportunity, Pannell said, is great to develop projects that have enormous benefits for the region and beyond – something the Galveston District is known for.

The Corps can also help support non-federal investors, Pannell said, through the regulatory program and issuing permits, and also sharing federal real estate, such as dredged material placement areas.

Alan Craig and Tim Basinger at the Survey Equipment Services, Inc. booth, which won the award for the most eye appealing booth.

The Galveston District has many important studies in progress, including the largest in the nation on improving resiliency in coastal Texas and protecting the region from weather events. The district is also studying closely regional sediment management to better understand where and how material flows in a coastal zone, so it can better target where to dredge and where to beneficially use material.

Charles Jenkins from the Port of Houston spoke next, and he talked about the development of the port, as it went from four feet deep, to six, nine, 12, 18.5, 25, 32, 36, 40 and finally,  to 45 feet.

Tom Wang, Anchor QEA, (right) presents the Young Author Best Paper Award to Thomas Combe from Delft University.

The port is now embarking on its 10th initiative to widen or deepen the system. (For more about that project, see page 6 in the June 2015 issue.)

The last project, Jenkins said, started in the 1960s and took nearly 30 years to permit. It started construction 1998 and opened in 2005. “We can’t wait that long,” he said. So the port is working through permitting and construction and funding the most recent project in-house, all in four short years, Jenkins said.

He also noted that during the previous 30-year project, when the Environmental Impact Statement went out for public comment, it had no major environmental challenges, which is unheard of for a project of this size.

“There was enormous effort for finding the right balance between environment and commerce,” Jenkins said. Millions of yards of sediment was used in intertidal marsh, oyster reef mitigation, the creation of bird islands, as well as the channels and facilities for boaters. “Houston is proof that it can be done and it can be done right,” Jenkins said.

AWARDS

The WEDA Dredging Summit & Expo included many awards for safety, presentations and projects. For the Safety Awards, Manson Construction Co. won the Legacy Dredging Industry Safety Leadership Project Award; Terra Contracting Services, LLC, won the project award for environmental dredging at Morrow Lake and Delta, on the Kalamazoo River, in Michigan, for exemplary attention to safety on a project with major public exposure.

For more on the Environmental Awards, see page 14.

Thomas Combe from Delft University won the Young Author Best Paper Award for “The Influence of Adhesion on Cutting Processes in Dredging”; Coraggio Maglio, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Research and Development Center, and Jane Ousely, Aubree Hershorin and Millan Mora from the Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District won the DSC Dredge Best Paper Award.

At the awards dinner, Greg Hartman won the Lifetime Achievement Award and Michael Gerhardt from the Dredging Contractors of America won the Dredger of the Year award.

In his acceptance speech, Gerhardt said, “It’s truly an honor and a privilege to receive the dredger of the year award for 2015. Twelve years ago when I became a WEDA member and joined the eastern chapter right out of college, I had no idea it would have taken me down this path, one which has been very rewarding both professionally and personally, one which has given me the opportunity to make positive, meaningful contributions to the dredging industry and in support of WEDA’s mission, first through the eastern chapter and now through the Latin America Committee, Events Committee and Young WEDA Committee.

“I can honestly say that I’ve never seen WEDA so member-focused, so data driven and so strategic in its decision making and commitment as it is now. I’m convinced that WEDA is on a fast track to becoming a truly remarkable organization, which puts the members’ needs front and center and seizes every opportunity to anticipate and meet those needs through creativity and teamwork. Everything we have done at WEDA to make it what it is today has been the result of teamwork. I’m proud to be a part of that team and have no intention of slowing down. Thank you again Ram and the Awards Committee for this fine honor.”

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