The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District hosted the winter edition of its biannual Stakeholder Partnering Forum (SPF) February 15, 2023.
This SPF’s theme is “Partnering for a Sustainable Future.”
USACE Galveston representatives and their non-federal stakeholders provided updates on their collaborative endeavors for the Coastal Texas community at Galveston Island’s Moody Gardens Convention Center.
District Commander Col. Rhett Blackmon welcomed participants in his opening remarks and acknowledged the significance of the cooperation between USACE and its non-federal partners.
“I appreciate the list of folks who have agreed to give us their time and talk to you about the important work they’re doing,” Blackmon said while naming off all attending stakeholders: the Texas General Land Office (GLO); the Houston Parks Board; Texas A&M University (TAMU); the Port of Houston; the National Marine Fisheries Service; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD); and The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG).
“Our focus today is on a sustainable future … but today is also about communication,” Blackmon said.
Blackmon touched on the benefit of communicating and sharing lessons learned across federal and state agencies. “The big value in this is taking what you hear in this forum and bringing it back to your particular agency and seeing if it can work for you,” he said.
Several Galveston District representatives and non-federal partners spoke on their roles, responsibilities, and current projects, including: Houston Parks Board President Beth White, who shared her organization’s story on the Bayou Greenways—a $220 million public-private partnership; Program Manager Reuben Trevino, who presented on the Resacas ecosystem restoration project and offered insights on USACE’s approach to habitat restoration; TAMU’s Department of Ocean Engineering Associate Professor Dr. Jens Figlus, who gave the audience an in-depth look at hybrid dunes as a means of flood risk reduction; Operations Division Chief Chris Frabotta, who touched on the District’s beneficial use of dredged material and how it can bring added value to coastal Texas communities; and Galveston District Environmental Branch Chief Jeff Pinsky and Port of Houston Channel Improvement Director Lori Brunell, who both presented on Project 11, the expansion and widening of the Houston Ship Channel.
Attendants then received an update on USACE’s Coastal Texas Program (CTX) from Galveston District Mega Projects Division’s Dr. Kelly Burks-Copes and Texas General Land Office’s (GLO) Tony Williams. CTX, a $34 billion project and resiliency strategy for the Texas coast, was officially authorized by the president in December 2022. Burks-Copes and Williams touched on certain aspects of CTX that could potentially start before funding for the project is appropriated.
Beaches and dunes, or ‘green infrastructure,’ serve a dual purpose, Burks-Copes and Williams said. They address the CTX projects coastal storm resiliency management and ecosystem restoration features while providing added recreational benefits, they said.
Burks-Copes said the project will also have a generational impact for the coastal Texas community as well.
“Think about the local kids in high school and college right now getting ready for careers in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] fields,” Burks-Copes said. “They will be the ones stepping up to work on this project in the coming years. That means jobs for the coming generations.”
Local non-federal agency representatives then took part in a panel discussion on environmental considerations for sustainability lead by Pinsky. The panel included: Charrish Stevens, of the National Marine Fisheries Service; Dianna Ramirez, of the Texas GLO; Paul Kaspar, of the EPA; and Emma Clarkson, of the TPWD.
Keynote speaker Justin Ehrenwerth, TWIG president, then took the stage to share his insights on how to better evaluate the benefits of water resource projects. TWIG is an independent, non-profit applied research organization that works across disciplines to advance science and develop integrated methods to solve complex environmental and societal challenges.
The SPF helps the Galveston District identify opportunities to better support stakeholder commitments and emerging interests for planning studies, preconstruction, engineering and construction, operations and maintenance. It also serves as an opportunity for non-federal sponsors, customers, and agency partners from along the Texas coast to network and exchange ideas on ways the Galveston District can improve value delivery to the nation across its civil works projects and regulatory business lines.
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