CLEWISTON, Fla. (April 14, 2021)—The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District hosted its first-ever media day by inviting media from across the region to learn about projects, mission, and completion dates for south Florida projects including the rehabilitation of Herbert Hoover Dike and Lake Okeechobee.
The four-hour event was planned in part by the district’s corporate communications team and attracted both print and broadcast media.
Media days serve as an opportunity to provide open lines of communication for all stakeholders to be informed on the latest project updates and how projects could impact communities.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District Commander, Col. Andrew Kelly kicked-off the event with a safety brief and opening remarks.
“The goal of today is to provide a broad scope informational of all things related to the dike, the lake, onto how we move water, what things we are thinking about and projects coming up,” said Kelly.
Attendees included about 11 reporters from seven regional media outlets within the state arriving at John Stretch Memorial Park at 9:00 a.m. to participate.
“I appreciate events like this because it gives us access to stuff, we would never get to see otherwise, said Michael Raimondi from the Fort Myers affiliate News station NBC 2.
The humid and sticky day began under a wooden picnic pavilion in the park, with a safety briefing and media representatives traded in there steno pads and pens for bright yellow and orange safety vests, safety googles and white hard helmets prior to a 5-mile tour of Herbert Hoover Dike.
Due to covid-19 restrictions, in separate vehicles the media trailed up the rocky road at 10 miles per hour for a tour of real-time maintenance construction work on Herbert Hoover Dike, along Lake Okeechobee.
Along the tour, media were able to see up close miles and miles of cut-off wall, heavy equipment cranes, different types of cement used for transporting and moving sediment which fill about 100 feet of material a day.
Next, members of the media were provided a one-on-one session with contractors and USACE engineers while on the dike.
“This is a public safety project, back when we had Hurricane Katrina the Corps looked at its overall portfolio of dams, we have more than 800 dams in the nation. We classified the dams by the level of work they needed to reduce the risk of the failure and the dike was at the top of the list,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District project manager, Ingrid Bon,
Herbert Hoover Dike, is a 1.8 billion dollar project that started in 2007, consisting of a 143-mile earthen dam that protects nearby communities Pahookee, Okeechobee and Belle Glade from flood-risk.
Rehabilitation on the dike is expected for completion December 2022.
Then, members of the media gathered under a picnic pavillion at the South Florida office and were provided information materials on projects that detailed Lake Okeechobee water management, operating manuals, Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA), Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), ecology of the lake, flood risk management and ecosystem restoration.
Kelly gave remarks, fielded questions and introduced subject matter experts prior to the start of the expert led discussion.
“Our construction team and the contractor folks are out there working hard everyday and that directly relates to the safety of those individuals living in or around Lake Okeechobee," said Kelly. "It also means we can do things like adjust our water management and we can do that because the liquid heart of Florida, Lake Okeechobee has a lot of greatness."
Shortly after media participated in a general overview session following a question and answer session from USACE experts which included about eight different professionals such as biologists, dam safety managers and engineers.
Lake Okeechobee, is comprised of a chain of lakes: Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake Istopoga, East Lake Tohopekaliga and Lake Kissimmee.
The lake is managed in partnership between the South Florida Water Management District and USACE.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Okeechobee water manager, Savannah Lacy, was the first speaker and provided current status about ecology, water management and operations.
“This was a great opportunity for us to share vital information with the media," said Lacy. "About 732 billion gallons of water enter the lake from the Kissimmee River on average every year which is equivalent to about 5 feet every single year and it's our priority to maintain current water levels that continue to provide a safe environment for Lake Okeechobee, Okeechobee residents and surrounding towns," said Lacy.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District on the district’s website at www.saj.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong.