National Dredging Meeting Addresses Pipeline Location Corps Planning Issues
Story and Photos By Judith Powers
The USACE/DCA (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dredging Contractors of America) National Dredging Meeting in May took place at the Madison Hotel in Washington D.C. The meeting covered a number of topics but the most important issue for dredging contractors was the deadly danger of unmarked and mis-located gas pipelines crossing navigation channels.
It has the greatest attendance by dredging contractors of any U.S. dredging gathering accounting for a large percentage of this year’s 170 attendees. Corps of Engineers civilian employees comprised the other major group and some suppliers manufacturers press and other interested parties filled out the list.
The opening session of the two-day meeting dealt with safety issues especially the pipeline location problem following an address by Major General Michael Walsh Deputy Commander of Civil works and Emergency Operations.
The general announced a transformation under way in the Corps Civil Works program to deal with the freeze in civil works funding expected to be in place for the next five years.
The first step of this transformation is to change the planning process to limit time and money spent on studies – the 3-3-3 rule – which will require that studies be completed in three years at a cost of $3 million or less and involving three layers of Corps hierarchy – districts divisions and headquarters he explained.
He described a budget transformation involving the construction and maintenance phases of the Corps dredging work.
“The process is simple” he said “select the projects that will provide the greatest benefit fund them to capability complete them to where they start producing those benefits then move on to the next.”
“For years we have tried to fund too many studies and projects at once with the result that projects were started and stopped sponsors became justifiably frustrated and it took a long time to see the benefits of your years of work” he explained.
Another part of the process is to increase the participation of local partners in financing projects. This is not a new concept he said but “we are now working to expand the concept to entire projects or systems where applicable.”
For the past few years the Corps has been developing a sustainable infrastructure strategy he said working to develop methods of assessing the “… value and levels of service of our systems to determine where our priority investments need to be applied.
“We assess their value to the nation in terms of benefits as well as the risk or consequences of failure. As our infrastructure ages we will need to make risk-informed decisions on recapitalization repurposing or divestiture of assets” he continued.
We’re going to have to “do less with less” he said. “This (objective) includes eliminating funding for maintenance dredging at some low-use harbors and outsourcing operation of some recreation areas.”
Regarding methods of delivery Corps headquarters is reviewing these from study initiation to completion of the project and beyond into the operations and maintenance phase insisting on high standards of technical excellence and transfer of technologies.
“We especially need industry partners such as you to be active everyday members of the team” he said.
Major General Walsh concluded by asking everyone to keep soldiers civilians and contractor employees in Afghanistan and other hot spots in their thoughts.
“There are 847 Corps of Engineers (unarmed) civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan” he said. “When leading them I had a 9 millimeter (weapon); they had nothing. I could not be more proud of the valor of your Corps of Engineers” he concluded.
Mark Mazzanti chief of programs integration at the Civil Works Directorate in his fiscal overview of the program said that last year there were 22 major disasters costing in excess of $800 million.
“A perfect storm is hitting the civil works program” he said. “How do you prepare for extreme events?”
He elaborated on the program General Walsh outlined in his talk and how the Corps would handle maintaining infrastructure on a limited budget.
A panel about dredge safety followed the opening session where Michael Gerhardt led off with a chilling illustration of the pipeline location situation that is foremost in the minds of dredging contractors.
He projected a map of the buried pipelines in the United States where 35000 miles of pipelines cross and re-cross navigation channels on the Gulf Coast alone their density such that the lines marking their routes created solid colors on the map in many places. Gerhardt remarked that this illustration didn’t include buried cables which also cross waterways.
Although the utility companies are responsible for maintaining the pipelines and providing locations they are never blamed for giving a faulty location he said. He showed a clip from 2010 of a Weeks cutterhead dredge that had hit an underwater gas pipe a huge fireball billowing in front of the vessel.
Gerhardt provided IDR with a description of the incident: “The Weeks dredge GD Morgan was working near the seaward limit of the Atchafalaya Bar Channel when the cutter struck a gas pipeline.
“Captain Jack Dunbar immediately sounded the general alarm and rushed to the lever room where he took over the controls and swung the dredge away from the fireball and out of harm’s way. As a result of his speedy and decisive action the dredge was spared any significant damage and more important there was no serious injury to personnel.
“The line was not identified or marked on any of the information provided by the Corps of Engineers.”
Ben Cottrell commented that “we do our best to locate the crossings and many times can’t find the pipelines. The problem can be solved but needs the effort to be expanded” he said.
Contractors are put in the position of risking the lives of their crews when the pipeline locations are not known and if they refuse to proceed in the face of this danger the Corps will issue an unsatisfactory or incomplete rating on the contract Cottrell said.
In the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in the Wilmington District a power cable crossing was 150 feet away from its designated location and seven feet higher in grade than required by the permit said Cottrell. When one of their dredges cut the cable the utility held Cottrell culpable.
“When the Corps pulled the utility’s permit and told them to re-install a new line and remove the old line they accomplished it in 72 hours” said Cottrell illustrating how the Corps has the authority to make sure the lines are installed property and maintained according to the permit and how fast a utility can comply when forced to do so.
Bill Hanson in talking about the Council for Dredging and Marine Construction Safety (CDMCS) said “The fact that this panel is the opening panel of the National Dredging Meeting shows how far (the safety culture) has come.”
The pipeline utility issue is of first importance to deal with in the next few years” he said. Ben Cottrell as president of the DCA will be focusing on this problem he said.
There is technology available to locate the lines and by not doing so people equipment and the environment area at risk said Hanson. “Why not take a few steps back and find where all these pipelines are?” he said calling on General Walsh for his help.
Jim Walker and Amy Klein of Corps headquarters spoke about solutions to the problem.
The Corps authorizes 16000 utility lines every year said Klein and the owners are responsible for their maintenance. Headquarters is coordinating with the districts to ensure that the lines are properly located while examining the effects of the utility lines with regard to maintaining the channels. They are creating a database of pipelines that will allow Corps and industry to find these data.
Walker described the scope of the challenge. There are 25000 miles of navigation channels 34 districts with a navigation mission to coordinate he said. The age of many of the permits is such that they are stored as physical files in boxes.
Hanson asked if the Corps could include in the permit a requirement that the crossing stay where the permit says it is and Klein responded that it was possible.
Rich Weeks noted that the dredge in the film clip was his company’s dredge. “That could have been the worst disaster” he said. “That pipeline was permitted and (the owner) is responsible for it.”
Other panels and speakers included:
USCG Access Routes Study by Tony MacDonald; World and U.S. Market Comparison by Edmond Russo; Dredging Equipment by Vinton Bossert; Contractor Equipment by Barry Holliday;
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund status and preparations by Barry Holliday and Jim Walker; MATOC (Multiple Award Task Order Contracting)/Mississippi Capital Improvement Program by Laura Eichorn and Leo Hickman;
A session on Excellent Contractor Communication with Henry Schorr and Roger LaFond on Brunswick; Oriana Duranczyk and Mo Chang on Marina Del Rey; and Kurt Ludtke and Steve Hugness on Indiana Harbor.
Dredging as a Resource included an overview by Todd Bridges; Michael Ott speaking about the mouth of the Columbia River; and Jackie Keiser on Beach and Navigation Synergy in Florida.
The final panel included a Navigation R&D overview by Jeff Lillycrop; Dredging Quality Management by Vern Gwin; and Navigation Strategic Plan Update by Jim Walker.
In his summary of the meeting Jim Walker said the National Underwater Utility Database is a number one priority for the navigation program; that we need to answer tough questions about what the dredging backlog is and if we get the HMTF funds how we will use them; that we need to move into the 3-3-3 plan outlined by General Walsh; that we need to address the question of whether we can advertise or bid a contract if the funds are not on hand and most important there needs to be guidance that we shouldn’t put ourselves in an unsafe situation (referring to unknown pipeline locations.)
Barry Holliday in his final statement addressed the subject of partnering saying “The partnering we’ve done up to now definitely has borne great fruit” and suggested that industry be open to partnering with the new chief of Engineers under the Corps’ new operations plan.
Award Presented to Gary Loew
An annual highlight of the National Dredging Meeting is the award of the William R. Murden Lifetime Public Service Achievement Award presented this year to Gary A. Loew. Barry Holliday made the presentation at the DCA-hosted reception which took place in the Rayburn House Office Building Gold Room.
Loew retired from the Corps of Engineers in February 2010 after a 42-year career that culminated as director of the Headquarters Programs Integration Division where he responsible for the development defense and execution of the approximately $5 billion annual Corps of Engineers Civil Works program.
“Gary has demonstrated his exemplary knowledge and understanding for the Corps navigation program and has been an extraordinary resource for the dredging industry. His commitment to the Corps and industry partnering process was critical to its continued success. Gary consistently carried the message to Congress and the Administration of the importance of navigation to this Nation. His leadership and support of a robust navigation budget was exceptional” said Holliday.
“Since retiring he has continued to work part time to define and establish a means for the Corps to use alternative financing methods to finance the rehabilitation operation and maintenance USACE Civil Works projects. He is also active in the American Chestnut Land Trust in southern Maryland which manages over 3000 acres of unique and environmentally sensitive forest and wetlands on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay” he said.
Loew was originally assigned to the Corps of Engineers as an Army Officer in 1968 where he worked in the Baltimore District as a biologist on several water resources projects. Subsequently as a civilian he managed the water quality permits branch from 1970 to 1972 was District Executive Assistant from 1972 to 1975 and was executive assistant in the Europe Division Frankfurt Germany from 1975 to 1980.
He then served at Corps headquarters in a number of positions in budget development defense resources allocation and execution of several Civil Works programs. He was director of the Programs Management Directorate of the Southwestern Division from 1997 through June 2005.
Among the attendees at the crowded reception was Representative Charles Boustany of Louisiana one of the congressional co-sponsors of legislation to devote the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund only to dredging as well as aides and staff of other legislators interested in dredging issues and most of the National Dredging Meeting conferees.