SAN PEDRO, California – Addressing the challenges facing coastal and inland waterways, senior leaders with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers participated in the first in-person meeting since the beginning of the pandemic with the California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference May 18-20 at San Pedro.
CMANC is a consortium of California harbors, ports and marine interest groups with the purpose of optimizing California maritime benefits by providing advocacy for the maintenance and improvement of California harbors, ports and navigation projects. It does this by working with the California legislature and congressional delegation to ensure that California maritime interests are supported by the federal and state government to the greatest extent possible.
“For more than 60 years CMANC, which is the local nonfederal sponsor in California for the navigation projects – along with the dredging contractors and the engineering firms that support the navigation mission in California – have worked with the Corps in order to achieve that,” said James Haussner, executive director for CMANC. “We certainly value the engineering expertise and the federal funding that flows through the Corps, so that California can move 40 percent of the containerized goods currently into the U.S., as well as have strong recreational and commercial fisheries.”
The Corps was represented by Maj. Gen. William “Butch” Graham, deputy commanding general for Civil and Emergency Operations; Col. Antionette Gant, South Pacific Division commander; Col. Julie Balten, Los Angeles District commander; and Lt. Col. Kevin Arnett, San Francisco District commander. Additionally, Jim Fields and Al Paniccia, navigation program managers for LA and San Francisco districts, respectively, and Dr. Todd Bridges, Corps senior research scientist, made presentations.
Balten outlined ongoing projects within the 840 miles of California coastline with LA District updates on dam safety; environmental projects, such as the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration project; and construction projects, adding the LA District has the largest number of permit applications of any district in the nation and has the ability to accept and expend funds from nonfederal sponsors to expedite the review of permit applications.
“Section 214 (of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000) allows non-federal public entities to enter into funding agreements with the Corps that we can use to expedite their projects,” Balten explained, adding that the San Pedro Breakwater was the very first construction project built by the Los Angeles District in 1902.
For Arnett and the San Francisco District, CMANC is “a great voice and collector-aggregator of some of the interests that are important for us to take into account as we prepare to deliver our navigation missions – establishing a forum, helping organize and collect the voice and the issues,” Arnett said. “It’s a great way to make sure where we have an efficient means to really understand what we’re doing from other stakeholder perspectives, whether it’s the contractors or the Corps. It’s a great venue and a great group.”
In terms of the Corps’ work on environmental issues, Bridges described CMANC as a forum for “limitless potential for the navigation sector to support nature and for nature to support the navigation sector.” He posed questions at the conference about how to engineer with nature and what was needed for operations.
“What science do we need to support innovation in engineering and operations to bring navigation infrastructure and nature and nature-based solutions together?” Bridges asked. “That’s why I’m here.
On May 20, Suzy Watkins, harbor director for the Port of San Luis and current chair of CMANC, introduced Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, telling attendees how Connor made time to join them despite his hectic schedule and would be flying back to Washington immediately after he spoke.
“The most important thing we should know about him is he’s a man who keeps his commitments,” Watkins said.
Connor spoke about the Corps and CMANC’s mutual interests, such as climate resilience and smart infrastructure. In April, during his 10th port visit as the assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works), he met with President Joe Biden at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the Corps had completed a widening project that included projected maintenance costs using appropriated dollars, as well as bipartisan infrastructure money. Simultaneously while he was speaking, he said his deputy and Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, were in Norfolk, Virginia, to celebrate a deepening/widening partnership agreement being developed between the Corps and the Port of Virginia.
“The navigation area and what we do – inland waterways and coasts – is the first of the Army Corps of Engineers’ portfolio of civil works’ missions, starting in 1824. It’s got a special and significant place for what the Army Corps of Engineers does,” Connor said.
Second in the portfolio, Connor said, is to build innovative climate resilient infrastructure to protect communities and ecosystems, adding the Corps integrates climate information and the need to design with that in mind going forward in its construction activities.
“I know that you are all doing that in the investment in ports themselves, even as we do the deepening and widening projects,” he said. “I also think the growth that we’re seeing and the focus that we’re continuing to see in the beneficial use of dredging material has a role in that resiliency strategy overall.”
Using dredged material is not only good for the environment, Connor said, but it also has meaning when it takes on the form of rebuilding barrier islands, coastal marshes and replenishing beaches.
“The level of resources is unprecedented and very exciting, and we look to do good things with that,” he said, explaining that even in just the navigation portfolio of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Corps has funding for coastal navigation projects and the inland waterway system. On the coastal side, 10 deepening and widening projects have already been funded to date.
Safe navigation is critical to the nation’s economy, and the partnership between the Corps and CMANC has led to safer California waterways, according to Fields, who also is a section chief with the LA District Navigation Branch.
“CMANC is a great collaborative team working together to acquire future funding for California projects,” he said.
Although he was not scheduled to speak at CMANC, Graham, the senior Corps of Engineers’ officer in attendance, provided final comments to attendees.
Watkins also added that one of the strengths of CMANC is that it’s been a successful partnership among local and federal agencies, other organizations and private sector vendors.
“We all work closely together and have identified our common goals – infrastructure, environmental and financial responsibility,” Watkins said. “We’re able to collaborate and advocate for all of those objectives, and we have good working relationships and enjoy each other’s company.”