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Posted 11/19/2015

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By Col. Jason Kirk, district commander
Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


I took command of the Jacksonville District in July of this year — I’m very proud of the district — its past accomplishments, the work we are doing now, and most importantly the important work ahead of us.

The mission of our district is to deliver value to the Nation by anticipating needs and collaboratively engineering solutions that support national security, energize our economy and increase resiliency.

Here are some things I’d like you to know about the district.

First, we aren’t just in Florida. We also execute our mission in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and we routinely have team members serving nationally in emergency management response roles and internationally in overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations.

We deliver engineering solutions in a wide range of areas. In the fiscal year that just ended, the district awarded well over $300 million in contracts, and oversaw the completion of more than $440 million of construction. We have almost $2 billion worth of projects under construction.

Federal law governs our operations — for the most part, we work with non-federal partners as we study and execute projects. We comply with applicable Federal statutes and regulations, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. We follow these laws and regulations scrupulously, and require our contractors to do the same.

Transparency is very important to us. We conduct public hearings and request public comment on our projects, and we publish our project documents on our website, where they are freely available. Visit us at www.saj.usace.army.mil.

Generally, a non-federal sponsor makes a request to initiate a project. We plan it, then the Congress has to authorize and appropriate funds for it. This multi-year process includes project study, agency and Congressional authorization, and finally Congressional appropriation of funds.

To ensure that we deliver projects within budget limits, we include contingency costs, risk analysis and adaptive management in our planning. Our projects have to show significant return on investment before Congress will fund them. On average, Corps projects return $8 for every dollar invested.

We conduct our project studies with the greatest scientific and technical rigor. The studies undergo peer review at the district, at our higher headquarters and by independent outside experts. Only projects that survive these reviews go before Congress for authorization.

Here are some concrete examples of our work in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Emergency management

Our emergency management team has been hard at work, training and preparing for major storms and standing ready to respond if needed. We always remember the damage caused by the four storms in 2004. This year, we did not have to respond to an emergency mission within the district’s area of operation.

However, this was not the case with other Corps districts. Jacksonville district team members have helped with emergencies outside of Florida. Of particular note was the deployment of our unmanned aerial vehicle team and three district dam safety engineers to South Carolina to help assess damage to critical dams after Tropical Storm Joaquin caused catastrophic flooding.

Flood risk management (Herbert Hoover Dike/levees)

The district is the central player in the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike. We have spent nearly $500 million on projects to make the 143-mile earthen dam that surrounds Lake Okeechobee safer. Before the current rehabilitation effort, the last major work on the dike occurred in the 1960s.

Recent projects on the structure include a 22-mile cut-off wall in the southern part of the dike where risk was greatest. We continue the vital work to decrease risk in the vulnerable southern portion of the dike. On-going work includes replacing water control structures and additional extensions to the cut-off wall.  

Our work in flood control goes well beyond the Herbert Hoover Dike and Lake Okeechobee — this last fiscal year we completed multi-year effort to conduct periodic inspections and risk assessments of the 90 federal levee systems in our area of responsibility.

Environmental/ecosystem restoration

The Jacksonville District is the lead federal agency for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration program, which includes the nation’s largest ecosystem restoration project to date, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. We execute this program in close coordination with the U.S. Department of the Interior as well as the State of Florida and its South Florida Water Management District.

Over the past 20 years, the federal government, through the Corps, has invested nearly $2 billion in planning, designing and constructing ecosystem restoration projects in south Florida.

Although there is much more work yet to be completed, we have already seen benefits of the restoration efforts. For instance, long-legged wading birds have returned along the Kissimmee River north of Lake Okeechobee, and we have seen a resurgence of native plants and animals within the Picayune Strand restoration project.

Everglades restoration is a collaborative effort. We work closely with our partnering agencies and the public to move projects forward. This past year alone we executed a total of $87.6 million for the program.

We awarded two of the four remaining construction contracts for the Kissimmee River Restoration project, which will restore a massive floodplain north of Lake Okeechobee and slow down the flow of water from the Kissimmee Basin into the lake. 

We awarded one of the three remaining construction contracts for the C-111 South Dade project in Miami-Dade County, which will work with additional infrastructure to deliver much-needed water to Everglades National Park. 

We also awarded a $197 million contract to construct the reservoir component of the Indian River Lagoon-South C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area project. The reservoir is a key storage component of the entire Indian River Lagoon-South project. Awarding this contract awarded is a major step forward towards being able to store local basin-run-off and improve conditions in the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon. 

Beyond focused “environmental restoration” programs, our Jacksonville Corps team always proactively considers environmental consequences of all our activities. An example is our management of the federal dredge disposal site “D-3” in Tampa Harbor, which has become a haven for a wide variety of birds. We didn’t set out to create a bird refuge, but we now manage our operations to minimize disruption of the bird populations using the spoil island. Learn more about the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental operating principles at http://www.usace.army.mil/missions/environmental/environmentaloperatingprinciples.

Coastal storm damage reduction and navigation

Florida’s beaches provide recreational opportunities, habitat for hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife; and a livelihood for millions of Americans. Jacksonville District has the largest coastal storm damage reduction program in the Nation. We construct and maintain more than 30% of the nation’s total coastal storm damage reduction program — formerly known as “shore protection” — projects, across 17 counties and more than 125 miles of shoreline. 

The goal of these projects is to reduce risk and promote coastal resilience. The projects also help restore habitat for shorebirds and marine turtles, and support local recreation and tourism.

We are also a leader in regional sediment management, an innovative interdisciplinary approach to managing both dredging and shore protection. The concept is simple: instead of putting sediment dredged to keep harbors and channels open into the open ocean or on spoil islands or inland locations, regional sediment management uses the sediment to renourish local shorelines.  Regional sediment management mimics natural sediment movement, keeps valuable sand in the system, and has significant ecological and financial benefits for the nation and for local communities. 

Egmont Key in Tampa Harbor is an example of success in regional sediment management. The district placed sand, dredged to keep shipping channels open, on the Key, stabilizing severely eroded beaches and protecting historic structures and cultural resources on this unique Florida State park. 

We are also using regional sediment management methodology in our project to improve navigation at Mile Point on the St. Johns River, and in an upcoming project at Lake Worth Inlet on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

Recent and planned coastal storm damage reduction and regional sediment management projects of note include:

  •  A contract for Miami Beach, which we expect to award in June 2016
  •  A contract for a 10-mile segment of shoreline in Duval County, which we also plan to award in June 2016
  •  A project along Nassau County beaches this winter that will use material from the U.S. Naval Station Kings Bay maintenance dredging project.

The Jacksonville District’s navigation program includes both maintenance dredging of existing Congressionally-authorized projects and expansion of existing navigation projects. Together, these elements of the Corps’ navigation program ensure that channels can accommodate shipping at originally-authorized depths, and in some cases can accommodate the larger modern vessels that will begin transiting the Panama Canal in 2016. In both cases, the navigation investments deliver national, regional and local economic benefits.

Jacksonville District works closely with local sponsors to execute the navigation program. In September of this year, with the Port of Miami, we marked the completion of construction of the $300 million Miami Harbor deepening. We continue to move forward with projects to deepen Jacksonville Harbor and Port Everglades, which will ensure that Florida and the Southeast continue to have the efficient modern ports necessary to support the growth of America’s economy.

Regulatory

Jacksonville District administers the largest regulatory permitting program in the Corps, which provides protection for waters of the United States, including federally delineated wetlands and navigable waters.

An important element of our regulatory program is the mitigation banking program. The program helps protect ecosystems by providing offsets when wetlands are destroyed and helps the nation meet the goal of “no net loss” of wetlands. The Corps of Engineers oversees wetlands mitigation banking nationwide. The Jacksonville District is responsible for nearly a third of the Nation’s total area of wetlands mitigation banks.

We oversee some 147,000 acres in 68 mitigation banks — with another 32 banks currently under review. The average size of the banks here in Florida is over 900 acres — the largest bank is 24,000 acres. Mitigation banks provide for larger contiguous areas of wetlands, with the associated environmental advantages. Each bank is subject to rigorous scientific evaluation and monitoring to ensure that the designated lands meet criteria for successful mitigation, which includes “in-perpetuity” protection.

Military, International, Interagency and Environmental Services

Although much of our work is Corps “civil works” (environmental restoration, navigation, etc.), Jacksonville District also has an active and growing program to provide "one-stop" service and support to select U.S. military and federal agencies in Florida and the Antilles as well as to some Caribbean international governments. 

We support clean-up of formerly used defense sites throughout Florida and the Antilles. Last year, we were able to complete an emergency clean-up of World War II munitions at Fort Pierce in record time. We have ongoing work to remove munitions from the Puerto Rican resort island of Culebra.

In fiscal year 2015, this team saw their portfolio of work more than double. They also gained a new military customer — Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico — and a new civilian agency customer — the National Cemetery Administration. We look forward to further expanding this business line, which is so important to supporting national security.

Operations and recreation

We operate multiple recreation areas, as well as locks and dams, particularly along the Lake Okeechobee waterway that runs between Stuart and Fort Myers. Our lock and dam operators locked through more than 42,000 vessels and our recreation facilities saw more than 5 million visitors in the last year.

We also play an active role in combatting invasive species, particularly invasive water plants that can choke navigation channels. In the last fiscal year, our invasive species managers treated over 24,000 acres of navigation channels to keep them clear of aquatic plants.

Puerto Rico

I’d like to highlight the work the Jacksonville District does in Puerto Rico.

Within the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the district is working on flood protection and a multitude of other projects. We recently completed the $200 million Portugués dam and are preparing to transfer responsibility for operation of the dam to the commonwealth.

We also recently completed a new 90-foot sewer siphon in the middle of the bustling Port of San Juan, without interrupting utility operations. The siphon is a critical, high-risk component of the Puerto Nuevo Flood Control Project.

We are working with the Port of San Juan on a study to improve the port’s efficiency, and making progress in cleaning up old munitions on the island of Culebra. We are also studying multiple flood control and environmental restoration projects in the commonwealth.

We are looking forward to continuing our productive partnership with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as we support study, design and possible future construction of ecosystem restoration, flood risk management and navigation projects that all contribute to increased resiliency and economic benefits.

Our team

In closing, I’d like to talk about our Jacksonville District team with which I have had the honor to serve since July. We employ about 750 professional engineers, biologists, scientists, project managers and other technical and professional staff, many with advanced degrees and professional accreditations, and many who are leaders in their fields.

I am very proud to be able to lead this dedicated, highly professional, interdisciplinary team. We are public servants working to support our national security, energize our economy and increase resiliency. We are a team of professionals dedicated to making tomorrow better.

Army Col. Jason Kirk Florida jacksonville Jacksonville District puerto rico U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Virgin Islands