JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Pick any 'how to business' book and there will no doubt be a chapter extolling the virtues of nurturing relationships. These books deal extensively with the role relationships play in making great things happen because it's not just folks with LinkedIn profiles who believe relationships matter.
On a recent trip aboard the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District survey vessel, named Florida, a group of more than twenty collaborators met to inspect portions of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, while talking shop, discussing projects, and perhaps most importantly, nurturing relationships.
It is sort of a captive audience, but that is a good thing, according to Florida Inland Navigation District Commissioner for Volusia County, Nancy Freeman.
FIND performs the functions of the "local sponsor" of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway project in Florida and is a special state taxing district for the continued maintenance and management of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Florida.
Freeman has served for about one year. She said she truly appreciated the hours spent aboard The Florida meeting with her colleagues, members of the Jacksonville District as well as members of state, county and municipal agencies.
"Being aboard the vessel and traveling the waterway has been a phenomenal opportunity to see some of the projects FIND has been involved with," said Freeman. "Meeting representatives from all the various agencies, putting a face to the name and really having the time to hear each other's challenges and concerns has been a tremendous experience," she said.
The vessel ferried participants from Fernandina, Fla. to Stuart, Fla. Along the route, members of Jacksonville District, water management districts, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and several counties' resource management agencies, served as presenters. The fantail of Florida doubled as a stage for subject matter experts to address participants.
Eric Summa, environmental branch chief at the Jacksonville District, presented on overcoming environmental obstacles and his talk drew several questions from participants, including what the Jacksonville District is doing to prevent harm to manatees. Summa explained that in certain areas, including some in Duval County, dredging occurs between sunrise and sunset only because there is the perception that manatees cannot be detected at night. In fact, Jacksonville District takes every modern measure to ensure manatees are not harmed, including the use of infrared technology and a biologist-observer aboard the dredge to detect manatee presence. Summa is in the process of investigating the feasibility of deploying sonar to detect manatees to see if dredging hours of operations can be extended beyond the current window. Since its inception, Jacksonville District has never killed a manatee.
For some presenters, time aboard ship speaking with funders is instrumental in an era of shrinking state budgets.
"It's pretty evident that without our funders likewise our volunteers, we could not accomplish our mission fully," said Marc Virgilio, field ecologist with the FDEP Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserve.
Virgilio presented on the Indian River Lagoon Spoil Island Project and from the vessel, participants could see the area Virgilio described in his presentation.
"We are very appreciative of FIND because honestly, state budgets have been suffering and in my agency, we actually had to close our Cocoa Beach office," said Virgilio.
He added that about 10 to 15 percent of his job involves outreach to sponsors, collaborators and volunteers, so opportunities like the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway inspection allow him access to many stakeholders all at once.
According to David Hobbie, Jacksonville District's deputy district engineer for project management, most of the work the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does requires multi-party collaboration with government agencies, businesses, and other types of organizations. Collaboration is much improved when relationships are strong.
Even Jacksonville District Commander, Col. Alfred Pantano, carved three hours out of his 12-hour workday to hop aboard ship and meet with participants. He joined on the St. Augustine to Palm Coast leg of the journey, just after a restoration celebration at Rose Bay, followed by an inspection of a disposal site and just before a long list of phone calls and emails. Why' Because relationships matter.