Partnerships are building blocks for success in the Nashville District
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District leadership pose with members of the Society of American Military Engineers Nashville Post Sept. 21, 2022, at the headquarters building of Barge Design Solutions, Inc., in Nashville, Tennessee. The Nashville District provided program updates, review of current and upcoming projects, and provided a list of contracting opportunities to the group. (USACE Photo by Ron Collett) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nov. 4, 2022) – Partnerships are the building blocks for success when it comes to construction projects, operation and maintenance of hundreds of recreation areas and facilities, and even the management of dams that generate hydroelectricity and provide water resources that support navigation in the nation’s inland waterway system.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District provides collaborative water resource engineering solutions, world class public infrastructure management, and environmental stewardship for the Cumberland-Tennessee River Systems in an area that touches seven states and covers 59,000 square miles. There are a lot of different stakeholders that provide valuable input into impactful processes, and the Corps of Engineers has a mutual interest in establishing and maintaining strong relationships that supports consideration and collaboration.

Lt. Col. Joseph Sahl, Nashville District commander, said one of the strengths of the Nashville District is its people and the relationships they maintain with local communities, state agencies, and national organizations.

“These relationships directly contribute to our ability to serve this region through effective partnering,” Sahl said. “Effective partnering doesn’t just happen. It starts and ends with our relationships and reputation. I am continuously impressed by how each individual in this district contributes to that end and am excited about the tools we are developing to further effective partnering with industry.”

Sahl noted how the district works with communities on cleanup efforts along the beautiful lakes the public enjoys, participates in school outreach events and public tours, promotes excellent collaboration on important issues with the Tennessee Valley Authority, partners with state task forces to address critical needs like the flooding in Waverly, Tennessee, last year, and supporting the state of Tennessee with COVID Alternate Care Facilities the year prior.

“Our goal is to continue to take advantage of the tight relationships to foster strong partnering,” Sahl added. “This is a priority passed down from Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon as the entire Corps of Engineers wrestles with a massive workload that we cannot deliver alone. Nashville District is a leader in this regard, and we are taking tangible steps towards even more effective partnering to deliver projects with a whole range of options.”

While it is impossible to highlight every single stakeholder that maintains a relationship with the Nashville District, there are a few great examples of these “building blocks” that lead to successful projects and processes.

Relationships and public partnerships critically important

Every year millions of people visit Nashville District’s 10 lakes in the Cumberland River Basin. Visitors go boating, often departing from one of 279 boat ramps or more than 17,000 marina slips on 201,385 water acres the Corps manages or leases. In addition, visitors recreate at 283 recreation areas and 159,495 acres of public land along 3,800 miles of shoreline, hike on 119 hiking trails, and fish from one of 60 fishing docks and piers.

Tim Fudge, Nashville District Operations Division chief, said the work that managers, facility staffs, and park rangers do in the field to support the public’s interest in recreating at Corps Lakes is nothing short of amazing. Still, it all boils down to building and maintaining great relationships with visitors, local communities, stakeholders and even elected officials that have vested interests in how the Corps of Engineers manages these public lands, he said.

“We work for these folks and strong relationships help leverage opportunities to buy down risk, promote recreation and water safety, improve project features, educate the public, and help gain interest for future talent to come and work for us in our hydropower, navigation, and natural resource management business lines,” Fudge said.

Fudge explained that the infrastructure is aging, and resources are limited, requiring the Corps of Engineers to carefully manage its growing backlog of maintenance requirements.

“It is critically important that local communities understand any changes we may make in operating procedures and for our elected officials to clearly understand the challenges we face with our aging infrastructure,” Fudge said. “It is important for us as operations and maintenance professionals to seek out new opportunities to leverage relationships and partnerships to deliver our mission looking beyond the status quo.”

Team approach best way of reducing flood risk

The Nashville District enjoys a strategic relationship with the Tennessee Valley Authority with the district’s operation and maintenance of navigation locks in the Tennessee River Basin is another great example of working with a federal partner in the region. TVA brings capabilities and flexibilities to the table that enable the Nashville District to accomplish critical work across a vast array of project types and scopes.

In regard to flood risk management, TVA operates its dams in the Tennessee River Basin in concert with the Nashville District’s operation of dams in the Cumberland River Basin. Clear focus and seamless communication, especially during high-and-low-water conditions, between water management teams requires a close partnership.

Anthony Rodino, Water Management Section chief, said the commercially yet hydrologically complex region of the lower Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers requires careful coordination between several agencies during times of high water and also during times of low water.

The Nashville District, which operates the Cumberland River; TVA, which operates the Tennessee River; and Louisville District, which operates the lower Ohio River; communicate and coordinate and play a pivotal role in the successful operation of locks and dams and maintaining a nine-foot navigation channel. Specifically during times of low water, coordination calls are conducted between the agencies and information sharing occurs in real time, Rodino explained.

The Nashville District’s water managers also coordinate with the National Weather Service, which is responsible for forecasting river stages and weather forecasts.

“Communication between the Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service is critical,” Rodino said. “USACE reservoirs play a large role in river stages and weather patterns play a large role in scheduled reservoir releases.”

The U.S. Geological Service is another federal partner that is responsible for installation, maintenance, and upkeep of stream gages throughout the nation. These sites provide real-time information on rainfall, river stages and flows, and water quality conditions.

“This information is critical to USACE for proper operation of its reservoirs and locks and dams,” Rodino said.

Building strong relationships enhance public recreation

The Nashville District also works hard to build great working relationships with the Kentucky and Tennessee Marina Associations. The district regulates leases with 53 private marinas and four state park marinas at eight Corps-operated lakes in the Cumberland River Basin.

These marinas attracted an estimated 3.5 million visitors in 2020 and the gross receipts were nearly $114 million, the best year to date. Nashville District has by far the largest gross receipts of any marina program in the country, due in part by the marinas’ efforts to provide the highest quality of recreation to their patrons.

Meeting with marina stakeholders is always a great opportunity for the Nashville District to enhance the relationship between the Corps, stewards of public resources, and marinas, which provide the public needed resources and services when visiting Corps lakes. Informal spring meetings serve to keep communication lines open and provide an opportunity for the Nashville District to discuss process requirements and provide updates to policies and regulations affecting marina operators.

Mike Abernathy, Nashville District Real Estate Division chief, leads a real estate team that places a high priority on working closely with commercial concession marinas.

“The success of our marina operators is key to the recreation component of our authorized project purposes recognizing most of our visits come through the marinas,” Abernathy said. “Further enhancing communication will only continue to strengthen our relationships and increase transparency.”

Communication drives successful construction projects

The Nashville District manages construction projects like the Kentucky Lock Addition Project and Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project where it is vitally important to work closely with contractors.

Effective partnerships with contractors enable the Corps of Engineers to develop a shared vision of joint risks throughout construction, which is especially beneficial with very large and complicated mega projects.

“A shared vision of risks, documented in a Joint Risk Register, give us the best opportunity to manage and mitigate risks as one team dedicated to project delivery in a collaborative partnership,” said Ben Rohrbach, Nashville District’s Engineering and Construction Division chief.

Rohrbach explained that a three-tier governance framework is used to manage mega projects like at Chickamauga and Kentucky Locks that enables USACE teams and project stakeholders to work together to solve shared challenges at the project delivery, executive leadership, and senior executive levels. This provides structure to partnership activities, issue resolution and escalation processes, and improves communication both vertically and horizontally, he added.

“We utilize principles in the USACE Construction Project Partnering Playbook, focusing on communication, collaboration, and commitment to guide our partnering efforts throughout the lifecycle of our projects,” Rohrbach said.

Knowledge sharing generates positive hydropower cooperation

Another successful partnership charged to advance responsible hydropower is “Team Cumberland,” which is led by the Southeastern Power Administration. This partnership began in 1992 and includes representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, USACE Hydroelectric Design Center, Nashville District, Tennessee Valley Authority, SEPA, and Cumberland System preference customers.

The Nashville District benefits greatly from knowledge sharing as the district operates nine hydropower plants and 28 units in the Cumberland River Basin. These power plants produce more than 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours each year, enough green energy to support 304,000 homes annually.

“Team Cumberland” recently met to discuss ongoing trends. Senior leaders also provided visionary guidance for upcoming hydropower investments.

Loren McDonald, Nashville District Customer Funded Program manager, said the Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester, Kentucky, hosted the meeting, which included a congressional update and covered topics such as renewable energy credits for the Cumberland System, water management, water supply, operations and maintenance, and an initiative for the centralized control of hydropower plants.

McDonald provided an update of the ongoing efforts in design and construction related to the rehabilitation of the Nashville District’s hydropower plants, and an overview of upcoming work items for consideration.

“Hydropower is a critical component of our nation’s long-term, carbon-free, power-production portfolio. The Cumberland System is at a critical juncture requiring investments to ensure our power is reliable for another 50-plus years,” McDonald said. “To have these partners come together and understand how hydropower contributes to the customers’ portfolio while the Corps balances all of our authorized purposes is critical to our success.”

Pooling resources key to preparedness for natural disasters

Another impactful partnership effort involves the Silver Jackets Program, which is a formal collaboration of state-led interagency teams that look at ways to reduce the risks associated with flooding and other natural disasters in each state.

Ashley Fuentes, planning project manager, is heavily involved in the Silver Jackets Program. She is Nashville District’s Silver Jackets coordinator, co-coordinator for the Alabama team, and active member on the Kentucky and Virginia Silver Jackets teams. As the Tennessee Silver Jackets coordinator, she said the partnership is very much about relationship building to increase preparedness.

The Nashville District routinely meets with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and other state agencies and EMA officials to build relationships and pool resources to buy down flood risk in the region, coordinate programs, promote cohesive solutions, synchronize plans and policies, and ultimately provide integrated solutions.

“As a Silver Jackets team, we strive to know what services other agencies and offices offer and how they can support local communities when the need arises,” Fuentes said. “Part of the preparedness aspect comes from our Floodplain Management Services Program’s non-structural projects, where multiple partners come together and assist in solving a problem, filling a need, or educating local communities about flood risk.”

Fuentes said the main goal of Silver jackets in every state is to collaborate and build working relationships to ensure the Silver Jackets team can address flooding issues not only when they arise, but also before they happen.

Water resource management behind Tennessee partnership effort

In putting a lot of emphasis into its outreach efforts and maintaining partnerships, the Nashville District also participates in a Tennessee State Partnering Meeting every two years. This makes it possible for about two dozen federal and state agencies to share interests, agendas, and goals in water resource management operations.

Ron Collett, Nashville District Public Outreach coordinator, said the meeting fosters cooperation and agreement to balance competing priorities and resources.

“Joint stewardship of this natural resource is needed to balance an array of competing interests to best deliver results for the citizens of Tennessee,” Collett said.

He noted that the district’s operations impact the lives of Tennesseans with management of water supply, generation of hydroelectric power, safeguarding natural resources, and providing emergency response support during disasters, for example.

At each Tennessee Partnering Meeting, all parties sign an agreement that recognizes the roles and responsibilities of each member in the spirit of partnership.

With public outreach in general, Collett added that the Nashville District benefits from creating positive outcomes by forging partnerships with federal, state, and local governments and agencies, non-profits and private sector businesses, and by interacting with the public.

“Partnerships with our stakeholders truly are the building blocks for success in everything we do in our organization on behalf of the nation,” Collett said.