FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 23, 2011
Contact: Ken or Kate Gooderham -- (239) 489-2616
Harry Simmons, ASBPA President, (910) 200-7867
The Corps and the coast
A look at the Corps components that work for America's coast
Many people along the coast know that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- the Corps -- is the preeminent federal entity for coastal management. But how many know just what "the Corps" is? Well, there are a lot of various pieces and parts under that single monolithic moniker.
First, as the name implies, the Corps is part of the Department of Defense, and is split into military and civil works areas. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll focus on the civil works side, where coastal management resides. And it's resided there for a long time... the first water works projects began 200 years ago next year. Now, the Corps regulates all work in wetlands and navigable waters in the U.S. Its focus is federal first so all projects must be authorized by Congress, which is typically done in a bill called a Water Resources Development Act. Once a project is authorized, Congress must again vote to fund the project before the Corps can begin working on it. (This is a process that needs an article all its own to explain.)
The key to understanding the Corps is understanding its organizational structure:
The Corps is divided into eight geographic divisions based on watersheds: North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Mississippi Valley, Southwestern, South Pacific, Northwestern, Pacific Ocean and Great Lakes & Ohio River. Within those divisions are 41 districts, the access points for project work, regulatory issues and other community coastal concerns. If your community has any Corps involvement in its coastal management efforts, it will likely come from the district in charge of your area.
However, beyond this regulatory structure the Corps has another branch where research and policy matters hold sway:
Corps Headquarters: Based in Washington, DC, for obvious reasons, this is the conduit for Congressional direction. The Director of Civil Works is based here, as is the Chief of Engineers.
Institute for Water Resources: Based in Alexandria, VA, this is where policy issues are analyzed and evaluated, along with database development, mission study and technical training. You can get a fuller description online at www.iwr.usace.army.mil.
Engineer Research and Development Center: Based in Vicksburg, MS, this is the science and technology center for a number of the Corps' missions. For the coast, the main component is the Coastal & Hydraulics Laboratory -- where the cutting-edge modeling and engineering work is done to support the Corps' efforts at the division and district level for coasts, rivers, estuaries and more. Details available online at http://www.chl.erdc.usace.army.mil/.
Coastal Engineering Research Board: This advisory group reports to the Chief of Engineers, to review both policies and plans for a broader context within the Corps' objectives. It meets a few times each year around the country, and has a changing makeup of both civilian and military personnel.
National Planning Center of Expertise for Coastal Storm Damage Reduction: Based in the North Atlantic Division in Brooklyn, NY, its focus is coastal storm damage reduction, regional sediment management and ecosystem restoration. It operates as a virtual team to serve the entire Corps in its various projects. This center is more commonly known as the Coastal PCX (Planning Center of Expertise).
For local coastal advocates, the important take-away from this should be:
- The Corps operates at the behest of Congress, so that's the starting point for launching a project to be done by the Corps. It also is how research will be funded to develop the next best thing in coastal modeling, say -- research that must be ongoing to be effective.
- The local district is your access point for general expertise and project management, so make friends there if you're planning something in the future.
- The technical expertise for the coastal arm of the Corps is spread around, with engineers at the district level supported by researchers in Vicksburg and Brooklyn. Since expertise is only as good as the people filling the roles, having a blend of experienced and fresh faces throughout the system is crucial for sustaining success.
This organization background will be crucial in future articles here as we discuss some major issues facing the Corps in the very near future. More on that to come.
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the ASBPA promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa.