MOBILE, Ala. – When Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Gulf Coast five years ago, it nearly destroyed the Panama City.
One of the agencies that played a significant role in the city’s recovery and turnaround since the storm is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, specifically Mobile District’s Panama City Project Office.
The two leading roles of the office are Navigation Operations & Maintenance and Dredging and Disposal Area Management.
With a large area to cover for both missions, the Panama City Office is always busy.
“We handle the Navigation O&M mission for the eastern half of the District on the coast,” said Wayne Register, Panama City Project Office Manager. “Our office is split into two sides: a survey side and a construction management side. The survey side (Navigation Support Section) consists of a team of surveyors and cartographers who measure water depths to make maps of our channels for the commercial shipping industry to use. The other side is a team of engineers and inspectors who oversee dredging operations and a wide range of heavy earthworks.”
The key focus of the office is working with its customers and partners to find cost-effective solutions to their problems.
Whether the problem is big or small, the Panama City Office works hard to help its customers solve their problems.
“Recently, we played a major role in helping the Port of Panama City deepen the channel leading to a new terminal they were establishing at the former West Rock papermill site,” Register said. “Not only does this help keep the port economically competitive, but ultimately, it will more than double the long-term Port capacity, leading to additional job growth for the region and hopefully creating new jobs to make up for some of those lost when the papermill and adjacent chemical plant closed.”
Kevin Nazario, Civil Engineer technician, who has worked for USACE since 2015 and works on the Survey Vessel St. Andrew, conducts hydrographic surveys of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and occasionally fills in as an inspector doing Quality Assurance work on dredging projects, says he wouldn’t ever leave his position as it is his dream job.
“My duties have a wide range from conducting hydrographic and topographical surveysto operating the vessel and vehicles,” Nazario said. “I love working here in the Panama City Field office. I am always traveling, as far as the Louisiana state line to St. Mark’s, Florida. Every day has different challenges, from weather conditions, water currents, troubleshooting equipment, and other vessels in the waterways.”
Nazario said his most memorable experience working in the Panama City office was a recent deployment to Ft. Meyers, Florida, to provide support for those affected by Hurricane Ian.
“Myself, J.B. McLendon, and Aaron Yarbrough deployed to help conduct survey of the channel next to Sanibel Island, which the bridge to the island was destroyed,” Nazario said. “With my experience as a Debris Quality Assurance Supervisor with the Emergency Management teams, I was able to ensure that the vessel and vehicle were full of fuel and food for the crew. We worked long hours, but we were able to complete the mission and help Jacksonville District.”
Register said his advice to young people interested in a career with USACE is to get out and watch, participate, and learn the work being done.
“Spend as much time in the field as possible,” Register said. “In my case, that means construction and dredging, but I’m sure it applies equally to environmental field work, natural resources, etc. Early in your career is the best opportunity to develop technical competence.”
Jerry McLendon, Civil Engineering technician, said the Panama City Office is a great workplace and positively impacts the Mobile District and USACE.
“I believe our site office plays a big impact on the Mobile District and USACE as a whole,” McLendon said. “We are responsible for a lot of waterways to make sure stay deep enough for shipping traffic, which provides transportation for the movement of commercial goods to the ports, which affects our national economy.”