The Western Dredging Association (WEDA) held its annual 2019 Dredging Summit & Expo in Chicago from June 4 to 7. Four hundred and nine attendees attended the event, and the trade show hosted 85 exhibits. The conference included pre-conference short courses and a pre-conference boat tour and lunch, welcome reception, awards, gala dinner and many technical and plenary sessions.
WEDA President Marcel Hermans opened the conference Wednesday morning, June 5.
“Here we are again back for another WEDA Dredging Summit & Expo, back to find out about the latest developments in our world of dredging, and back to see the newest products and services available,” Hermans said. “We’re back to reconnect with others in the industry to learn from each other and share with each other. And for WEDA old timers we’re also back in Chicago. We had our conference here in 2003, 16 years ago.”
Hermans talked about the conference theme: Waves of Change, Oceans of Opportunity.
“Change is easy. That’s just doing something different. But the important thing here is to change in order to improve. We should be focused on doing things better. That’s what we should be doing here this week. Learn from and with each other, how to make things better, better equipment, better design, better project approaches, better safety measures, better environmental protections and better dredging,” Hermans said.
To do its part to improve beneficial use, WEDA has formed a working group. Fifty members are focused on not only revisiting and summarizing past work on beneficial use, but also setting out to improve the process. The group will identify current obstacles to beneficial use and work to eliminate them.
History: Great Lakes Dredge and Dock and Chicago
After his introduction, Hermans introduced the morning’s opening plenary speaker, Dave Simonelli, president of the dredging division at Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, which has called Chicago home for more than a century.
GLDD began operations in Chicago in 1890, as Lydon & Drews. The small construction company’s first project was building a brick-lined tunnel 60 feet below Lake Michigan, which connected the Harrison Crib to the shore, supplying the city with water. The crib was completed in 1900 and remained in service until 1998.
“During that period, Chicago was growing steadily, as it recovered from the great fire of 1871, expanding its harbors and waterfront to meet the needs of a growing city,” Simonelli said.
GLDD played an important role in that growth, reclaiming 90 percent of Chicago’s shorelines.
In 1900, the company reversed the flow of the Chicago River main stem and straightened the south branch. “We did this with a series of canal locks that increased the river’s flow from Lake Michigan, causing it to empty into the newly completed Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal,” Simonelli said.
Around this time, Great Lakes began operating the first privately operated trailing suction hopper dredge in the U.S., the Michigan. Fifty years later, Great Lakes would build the Manhattan Island, the second privately owned hopper dredge in the U.S. market. Great Lakes also designed and built the largest cutter suction dredge in the world at the time, the New Jersey.
The company perfected and built on its drilling and blasting operations and dredging behind a strong knowledge of the market. Management anticipated that ports on the Great Lakes would need to be deepened, and in the early 1900s, Great Lakes, built nine drive barges (#1 through #9) to do the work.
During the 1930s and 40s, GLDD expanded its dredging operations on the Great Lakes and the East Coast. At the start of World War II, the company was commissioned to build the MacArthur Lock at Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan, which facilitated increased flow of iron ore from the mines of Lake Superior to the steel mills in Cleveland and Detroit. During the war, two large cutter suction dredges were also transferred to the Navy for work in the South Pacific.
In 1954, GLDD moved the German U-boat 505 across Lake Michigan to the Museum of Science and Industry.
From 1950 to 1970, the company grew through business and equipment acquisitions. In the 1970s, GLDD entered the international market, taking on large port development projects in the Persian Gulf and South America. “Our international market provided a sound counterbalance to the ups and downs on the U.S. market,” Simonelli said.
“History drives strategy,” he said. “To think about our future, we must captively understand our past.” The company is also gearing up to celebrate its 130th anniversary in February 2020.
Focusing on the current dredging, Simonelli said it’s an exciting time for the industry. “Investment in projects are finally starting to be realized,” he said, noting port deepening projects that have been completed in Miami, Norfolk and New York, with six port projects underway.
In the energy sector, the construction of LNG facilities has led to many dredging projects over the last decade. The advent of fracking has only rushed this demand for export facilities. Ten LNG terminals have received approval for expansion or new construction, and 13 others are awaiting approval.
“The LNG projects on a whole present huge cutterhead dredging opportunities for the U.S. dredging industry,” Simonelli said.
To meet the growing demand, the industry has built many new dredges, with several more underway. “We need investment to be matched with consistent funding,” Simonelli said. “The challenge has our attention.”
The company is namely focused on the Corps funding and staffing, wondering if the agency will receive sufficient funding or be staffed accordingly to carry out the work load efficiently. As example, Simonellli said, $1.6 billion in supplemental funding was issued last July and very little of that work has been put out to bid yet (as of early June).
Environmental restrictions continue to drive the cost of dredging projects. Simonelli said the Charleston deepening project could have been completed in two years, instead of three, by expanding environmental windows.
“And I can’t talk about dredging without talking about the Jones Act. We welcome discussions about the Jones Act because everytime it comes up in conversation it gives us a great opportunity to talk about who we are and what we do for this nation,” Simonelli said.
He concluded with focusing on safety, which he says has been one of the most rewarding parts of his career. “This is not someone else’s issue. It is each of ours. Putting that culture into action and seeing it become the norm has been rewarding for me personally,” he said.
Last year, GLDD set and achieved a goal of sub one, less than one reportable injury per 100 full-time employees for the year. Simonelli said that so far this year GLDD is maintaining that record.
He also said GLDD is focused on achieving that same level of safety with its partners, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. GLDD is looking to work with Corps leadership on this issue.
The conference provides time for many awards, including awards for industry contribution, environmental and safety excellence and other special paper awards.
WEDA awarded Craig Vogt, the 2019 Annual Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the dredging industry as a whole and to WEDA in particular. The award recognizes his life’s work promoting environmentally sound dredging and dredged material management practices, both at home and abroad, and his help in making WEDA become a forward-looking, environmentally conscious organization.
Vogt began his career at EPA. He was responsible for the agency’s coastal protection programs and the development and implementation of dredged material disposal regulations. In 1991, Vogt attended his first WEDA meeting and became a board member in 1992. He established the WEDA Environmental Commission, and from 1995 to 2008, he co-chaired the National Dredging Team with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bringing together EPA and Corps interests. Vogt also established the WEDA environmental awards program and was recognized as WEDA’s Dredger of the Year in 2000.
Matt Binsfeld, president and CEO of J.F. Brennan Company Inc., won the 2019 Dredger of the Year award.
The annual Safety Excellence Award for a Dredging Project was awarded to CEDA Deep Reach Electric Dredge Design and Execution Syncrude Aurora Tailings Pond.
WEDA presented a Special Recognition Award to the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO), a department of EPA, for its long-standing efforts to restore and protect the health of the Great Lakes.
Justin Wilkins, Joshua LeMonte, Andrew McQueen and Burton Suedel from the Corps Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) won the WEDA best paper award for “Initial Survey of Microplastics in Bottom Sediments from U.S. Waterways.”
Women of WEDA
The Women of WEDA met for an inaugural breakfast at the 2019 meeting. The group is dedicated to creating a platform for female WEDA members to network with other women, exchanging ideas and offering guidance, and supporting and empowering newcomers to the field.
Kathryn Thomas of ANAMAR organized the group in part because “women supporting woman is really important,” she said. Thomas is accustomed to being part of a male dominated industry, first as a Navy helicopter pilot in the military. Thomas joined the management team at Anamar in November 2017. Prior to that, Thomas also started a non-profit, where she found numerous important female mentors.
“I always look for new opportunities to connect with people,” she said. Her first WEDA conference was last year in Norfolk, where she found some connections with great women but wanted more.
At the inaugural breakfast, the women in attendance took the time to introduce themselves and what they hope to get out of the group. The annual meeting and chapter meetings will provide additional opportunities to share ideas, meet new women in the industry and grow the group.
Women interested in joined the Women of WEDA or helping to support chapter meeting organization should contact Kathryn Thomas at email@example.com.