LOS ANGELES - As the new commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, Col. Aaron Barta understands the importance of visiting project sites firsthand.

"Seeing project sites myself and talking to our team members makes it much easier for me to clearly advocate for the Los Angeles District," he said.

So, from Aug. 28 to 30, Barta traveled to several of the LA District's project sites in San Diego and Riverside counties to meet with stakeholders, Congressional representatives, project managers and District employees to learn about each project, the impact it has on the local community, challenges engineers and project managers face and ways to resolve those challenges.

The first stop was a meeting to discuss the Murrieta Creek Flood Protection and Environmental Restoration project with Rep. Ken Calvert, 42nd Congressional District, and representatives from the City of Temecula, Riverside County Flood Control District and the Corps' LA District.

Murrieta Creek is a $228-million, four-phase project designed to provide flood-risk reduction, ecosystem restoration and recreation. The project is intended to provide a 100-year level of flood protection to the flood plain, which includes the historic Old Town Temecula. The project's major features include about seven miles of channel improvements, a wildlife corridor along the length of the project, three bridge replacements and a 270-acre detention basin with 163 acres of wetland restoration and a 49-acre recreation park.

During the meeting, officials discussed the environmental challenges in removing sediment from Phase 1 of the project, as well as completing the remaining work on Phase 2A, which includes replacing a safety fence and adding additional drainage, a headwall and overbank landscaping.

Phase 1 of the project was completed in 2005, but has not been turned over to the flood control district. The Corps plans to restore the channel to its original design, removing sediment and vegetation; however, it requires a new environmental document, which could take a year before the work could start. In the meantime, plans are to cut a pilot channel on Phase 1 to keep water flowing downstream during a flood event.

"The meeting between Rep. Ken Calvert, Col. Barta, the Corps' LA District, Riverside County and the City of Temecula strengthens the Corps' commitment to this project and allows us to overcome some of the challenges," said Melvin Meneses, project manager with the Corps' LA District. "Plans are to expedite construction contracts and alleviate potential local flooding issues before the major storm season begins."

Additionally, Meneses said, Calvert emphasized the project's importance to the local community and reiterated his support toward its completion, which was inspiring.

Next, the commander traveled to Oceanside Harbor to visit with the city's public works director and representatives with the harbor to discuss dredging operations.

Oceanside Harbor navigational dredging is an annual project conducted to maintain the federal channel within the harbor at its authorized depth and to provide safe navigation for the recreational, commercial and military vessels that use the channel.

The LA District plans to dredge Oceanside Harbor this fall. Manson Construction, the Corps' contractor, will begin the work in October at a cost of about $3.5 million. The Corps is coordinating with the city to determine the extent of dredging necessary. During the meeting, Corps and harbor officials discussed dredging 180,000 cubic yards of material.

The material dredged from the entrance channel will be placed along Oceanside's beaches. Placement of beach-quality material along the shoreline is a beneficial byproduct of the project.

On Aug. 29, Barta met with some of the Corps' regulatory specialists at the LA District's Carlsbad Regulatory Office, where they briefed him about their projects, challenges and successes.

Some of the types of projects the Carlsbad office manages include permits for residential, commercial and industrial developments; transportation, like the Interstate 5 widening project; utility lines; large-scale restoration projects; flood channel capital improvement projects and maintenance; dredging and beach nourishment; and projects for the Navy and Port of San Diego.

Following his visit with the Carlsbad team, the commander headed to meet with Encinitas and Solana city officials to view Corps' projects at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas and Fletcher Cove in Solana, respectively.

The Corps' Encinitas and Solana Beach Coastal Storm Damage Reduction project is located along the Pacific Ocean in San Diego County.

The study area has narrow beaches and coastal bluffs exposed to crashing waves, which carve notches into the bluffs, which are then prone to episodic collapse.

Bluff failures can represent land loss, damage to property and safety hazards for beach recreationalists. The purpose of the project is to effectively reduce risk to public safety and economic damages associated with the bluff and beach erosion along the shoreline. A secondary purpose is to reduce erosion and shoreline narrowing to improve recreational opportunities.

According to Susie Ming, project manager with the Corps' LA District, both are beach nourishment projects, which means the sediment would provide the buffer between the waves and the bluffs. Annual costs of both projects total about $3.9 million. The average net benefit would be more than $5.5 million.

Ming said the meeting was beneficial for both cities and the commander because it allowed for him to see the project site firsthand and gave city representatives the opportunity to express their support about moving the projects into the preconstruction, engineering and design phase.

The last project of the day was a visit to the San Diego Veterans Affairs Hospital to meet with the Corps' team working on the construction of the VA's Spinal Cord Injury Center.

The $227-million project includes construction of the facility, which will consist of 50 private in-patient rooms, as well as outpatient, genitourinary and therapy clinics. The plan also includes an 800-car parking garage. The Corps' Albuquerque District completed the design of the facility, and the LA District is overseeing its construction.

On the last day of the site visits - Aug. 30 - the commander met with Corps' team members and contractors to tour infrastructure along the San Diego and Mexican border.

The more than $147-million project consists of replacing 14 miles of existing landing mat and bollard fencing with steel bollard panel-style fencing along the U.S. and Mexico International Border in San Diego. The project is expected to be completed by May 2019.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is executing the national security project for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the direction of the Administration and as funded by Congress.

While touring the project sites, Barta emphasized transparent communication with our partners and stakeholders and was impressed by the LA District team's drive to deliver the program.

"This week's trip was very successful," Barta said. "The entire Los Angeles District team did a great job explaining challenges and plans to resolve them, that reassured project stakeholders that we were working hard for their best interests."