. -- As the fiscal calendar nears 2020, officials at Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working to close the books by month’s end while taking a glimpse back at the past year’s accomplishments.
It was a momentous year for the district -- with 234 contracting actions, and counting -- for a total value of more than $213 million invested in the infrastructure around the commonwealth of Virginia on both military installations and in local communities.
“I’m proud to serve alongside this remarkable team and they truly have delivered this year,” said Col. Patrick V. Kinsman, Norfolk District commander. “The Norfolk District team tackled some complex challenges – from coastal resiliency and sea level change, to modernizing infrastructure for our military partners based in Virginia, to working closely with the Virginia Port Authority on our harbor deepening project, to working at Arlington National Cemetery, and to our many other projects that are making a difference in how people live and work….it truly has been an incredible year.”
Fiscal year 2019 saw a record $88 million in work within the district’s civil works mission. Projects ranged from its maintenance of federal navigation channels around the Virginia to sand replenishment along the shoreline and laying the groundwork to make cities more resilient in the face of coastal storms.
“What was tremendously helpful last fiscal year was having a budget from Congress on time; this gave us the entire year to plan and program our expenditures, and we certainly hope that happens again this coming year,” Kinsman said.
It starts with good planning
Within USACE’s Planning initiative, the district completed the Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management study on time. Sent to Congress for approval, it recommends a $1.4 billion project featuring storm-surge barriers, nearly 8 miles of floodwall, a 1-mile levee, 11 tide gates, and seven pump and power stations, reducing risk to the city of Norfolk from tidal flooding during storm events.
Beyond the district’s typical boundaries, the Planning Branch is working on three coastal studies in collaboration with Jacksonville District. The Florida Keys Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study, Collier County Coastal Storm Risk Management Study and Miami-Dade Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study are all on track for completion in 2021.
Each seeks to evaluate measures for coastal storm risk management and help mitigate sea-level rise in these sections of the Sunshine State.
The district’s planning team is also working on a study in New York, which is evaluating environmental impacts from reasonable project alternatives related to the improvement of the anchorage(s) included in the New York and New Jersey Harbor Federal Navigation Project.
Norfolk District is working to continue the Lynnhaven River’s ecological recovery through an ecosystem restoration project with the city of Virginia Beach. Identified as one of 10 tributaries to be restored by 2025 in Virginia and Maryland, it was the only ecosystem-restoration program that was funded as a startup for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nationwide in fiscal 2019.
The district team is working on finalizing the Lynnhaven design and getting necessary permits for creating 31 acres of new reef habitat, along with restoring 38 acres of wetlands and 94 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation.
“Our Norfolk District planners have been working hard to help both the commonwealth and other areas along the East Coast prepare for the water resource issues of the future, which includes rising sea levels, larger vessels calling at our ports and continued aquatic ecosystem degradation,” said Susan Conner, Norfolk District chief of planning branch. “It is our job to make recommendations to Congress for construction of projects that will help to address these issues.”
Keeping commerce flowing
The Norfolk Harbor Navigation Improvement Project entered a new phase this past year, as the Virginia Port Authority and district worked closely on a design plan for deepening and widening channels in and out of Hampton Roads to allow the largest cargo ships access to ports.
The strong partnership between the port and the district is greatly contributing to the project moving out ahead of schedule -- with dredging expected to start in fiscal year 20, years ahead of the typical timeline for similar projects.
The Port of Virginia is the country’s seventh-largest and handled more than 79 million tons of cargo this past year.
In addition to the Norfolk Harbor project, the district’s operation branch continued to keep the nation’s water highways open. The branch’s maintenance of local navigation channels allows billions of dollars to flow through ports and harbors around the commonwealth, including shallow-draft harbors where local watermen navigate to and from their spots for oysters, crabbing and fishing.
Six dredging projects were initiated in fiscal 2019: Thimble Shoals Channel, James River, Queens Creek, Lynnhaven Inlet, the Dismal Swamp Canal and Chincoteague Bay Greenbackville. In addition, the Operations Branch was also involved in the dredging for the Langley Back River Fuel Pier at Langley Air Force Base.
An estimated 4.4 million cubic yards of dredged material will be removed by fiscal year end.
“Maintaining safe navigation in Virginia’s federal navigation channels is our top priority. Throughout the year, Operations Branch professionals monitored our waterways for potential hazards to navigation, such as floating debris and the formation of shoals,” said Keith Lockwood, Norfolk District chief of operations branch. “With the help of Congress providing the necessary funding, the Norfolk District was able to remove an unprecedented amount of shoaling in six federal channels in fiscal year 2019.”
The $22.64 million Virginia Beach Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project includes the placement of 1.4 million cubic yards of sand from 15th Street to 70th Street. It’s designed to protect infrastructure along the city’s oceanfront and set to wrap up early next year. Work is slated to begin again in mid-November, once the time-of-year restrictions to protect migrating sea turtles ends.
The Sandbridge Beach Renourishment Project will kick off shortly afterward, putting both areas of the city’s oceanfront back to prescribed levels of protection against storm surge during tropical cyclones and nor’easters.
Twelve miles from the Maryland border, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, sits Tangier Island, a small primarily fishing community. Work on a new $3 million jetty to protect the island’s harbor and western channel from wave action is getting ready to take place. Norfolk District finalized the project’s design in fiscal 2019 and is working on remaining land acquisition, allowing for the construction phase to begin early next year.
This past year, another smaller project wrapped up construction in Amherst County, Virginia: the $1.8 million James River Amherst Shoreline Stabilization Project. Engineers stabilized a portion of the river, which was eroding to the point it would have compromised a 24-inch sewer line, potentially spewing 700,000 gallons of sewage a day.
“This has been one of the more challenging, and yet productive and rewarding years to be involved in civil works,” said Richard Klein, Norfolk District chief of the Programs and Civil Works Branch.
At the ready, answering the call
As Hurricane Dorian took aim towards southeastern Virginia, the district’s Emergency Management office sprang into action. A team of 32 employees dropped everything and deployed to Richmond ahead of the storm to closely coordinate with the Virginia Department of Emergency Services and FEMA at the state’s Emergency Operations Center and to make sure the district was at the ready if Dorian heavily impacted the area.
Additionally, as North Carolina was recovering from Hurricane Florence, which hit just prior to the start of fiscal year 2019, and the panhandle of Florida was devastated by Hurricane Michael just after the fiscal year started, 21 Norfolk District deployed in support of those area to assist the states and local communities recovery.
Employees also deployed to the mid-West in support of the unprecedented flooding that took place during the spring and summer of 2019.
Norfolk District personnel also supported overseas contingency operations, with two employees supporting missions in Afghanistan.
Striking a balance
The district’s regulatory team continued efforts to strike a balance between the environment and need for economic growth throughout Virginia.
In fiscal year 2019, environmental scientists performed approximately 4,500 regulatory actions, including issuing around 2,200 permits. The Regulatory Branch also approved 10 new commercial mitigation banks.
Regulatory has worked to make its actions more transparent by posting public notices on the district’s social media platforms, as well as revising the mitigation-bank template to make it more efficient and easier for end users.
“Virginia abounds with natural and cultural resources as well as great social and economic opportunity,” said Tom Walker, Norfolk District chief of regulatory office. “We are proud to play a part in ensuring sustainable development that foster continued prosperity while ensuring adequate protection of the environment.
Supporting the nation’s Soldiers and Airmen continues to be a top priority. This past year, the district’s unwavering support to military partners continued as it delivered world-class facilities for Army and Air Force installations throughout Virginia and beyond.
The military construction program at Norfolk District topped $317 million in fiscal 2019, and work on multiple facilities is occurring at most installations within its operational area.
At the Defense Logistics Agency’s Defense Supply Center Richmond, the district is working to repair and replace storm sewers across the entire facility. It’s also wrapping up designs for Phase II of the DLA-Aviation Operations Center, a $98 million office building, which will complement the recently completed phase I portion of the project. Construction is expected to begin in 2020.
The district awarded its first-ever job order contract at DSCR. The five-year, $25 million contract allows for a broad range of maintenance, repair and minor construction support to the installation.
A few miles down the road at Fort Lee, the district is overseeing the finishing touches on a Training Support Facility, which houses artillery and weapons from around the world. It will allow military students the ability to learn about the weapons and their capabilities.
Advanced individual training personnel will soon utilize new living and dining facilities at Fort Lee. The Corps is wrapping up work on a $68.7 million Phase III advanced individual training complex, which includes a 600-person barracks and dining facility that can handle up to 1,300.
The district is also upgrading lights from 1,000-watt metal-halide bulbs to energy-efficient LED systems at 10 training facilities on post. Over time, the $700,000 project will pay for itself through cost savings in the installation’s electric bill.
Airmen at Langley Air Force Base are also seeing changes. The Corps is constructing a $57.3 million, 50,544-square-foot addition to Langley Hospital, which will house a mental health clinic and administrative space, as well as upgrade its Central Utilities Plant.
Soldiers at Fort Eustis will get to sharpen skills in a modernized complex in coming years, too. In fiscal 2019, the district awarded a $40 million contract for a new aviation maintenance training facility on post. The building will contain classrooms and open-bay training areas for rotary aircraft.
We’re proud in being able to provide world-class facilities for our men and women in the Air Force and Army across seven installations in the commonwealth,” said Mike Darrow, Norfolk District deputy district engineer for project management. “This past year we’ve modernized training facilities, barracks, dining facilities and other facilities, which enhances our military’s readiness and morale.”
Nation’s most hallowed grounds
Support to Arlington National Cemetery, the nation’s cemetery, went on through fiscal 2019. Norfolk District is in the process of renovating the cemetery’s 1970s-era Administration Building, giving it a much-needed overhaul with a new fire-suppression system, updated information-technology systems, and better layout and interiors for both staff and families who are awaiting a burial ceremony.
District personnel also finalized the environmental assessment for the cemetery’s Southern Expansion Project, which puts it a step closer to construction, increasing burial space to honor the nation’s veterans for decades to come.
Work on Arlington National Cemetery’s network of roads and storm drains continued in fiscal year 2019 – the $14.5 million Ord & Wetzel Road project was wrapped up, while the Pershing Road project is ongoing, with completion expected in fiscal 2020.
“Having the opportunity to serve our nation’s heroes through our work at Arlington National Cemetery is both humbling and extremely rewarding,” Kinsman said. “Our unwavering support to the construction and contracting needs of the Cemetery continues to be one of the highest priorities for us, and we will continue to strive for excellence as we administer the program now and into the future.”
A boost for schools
In addition to warfighter support, Norfolk District has the unique task of working with the Department of Defense Education Activity to design, build, renovate and maintain schools that are flexible and adaptable for the 21st-century education of 70,000 military-connected children worldwide.
The district is working on designs for 75 schools around the globe, 35 of which are new complexes or major renovations.
Also, the district executed a $4 million contract in fiscal 2019 to administer a Facility Asset Management program for DODEA schools across the United States.
According to Tom Booth, deputy chief of Norfolk District’s Engineering and Construction Division, the FAM contract allows the district to work with DODEA in tracking the needs and facility conditions through Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act inspections, Facility Condition Assessment surveys, updates to Facility Utilization Survey drawings and database; revisions and development of Real Property Inventory reports, data reconciliation, technical support and database management; and additional information collection and administration functions on each of its facilities.
“The end result these individual elements provide DODEA is a holistic assessment of its portfolio of facilities, which allows them to plan and resource their military construction and sustainment, restoration and modernization efforts, as well as other facility operations and maintenance programs,” Booth said.
On the horizon
Looking ahead, the district is committed to being dedicated public servants revolutionizing delivery of engineering solutions to our Nation’s toughest challenges. The district will maintain a competitive engineering edge by bolstering its own personnel roster. The agency consistently hires qualified individuals with the talent and skill sets to meet mission objectives, strengthen organizational values and lead the agency into the future.
“A major linchpin to our success this past fiscal year was having an approved budget coming into the year,” Kinsman said. “Without it, many of our project starts would not have been able to happen and our ability to execute the program would have suffered, as has been the case in years prior when we were operating on continuing resolutions or received approved budgets late in the fiscal year.”
Norfolk District continues to support national security, deliver integrated water-resource solutions, reduce risk from disasters, and prepare for tomorrow. Successful partnerships at the local, regional, and national levels have enabled our past success and the district looks forward to even greater success in fiscal year 2020.