Nov. 15 marks the second anniversary of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, legislation that delivered $17.1 billion in supplemental funding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers across the enterprise. Of that total investment, approximately $1.7 billion was appropriated to the North Atlantic Division to support investigations (studies), construction, the Continuing Authorities Program, and operations and maintenance.
"The transformative investments of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will continue to meet the President’s priorities of strengthening supply chains to bring down costs for working families, protecting American economic competitiveness, combatting climate change, and promoting equity by prioritizing underserved communities," said Michael L. Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
At the division, regional management for BIL projects is handled through its Civil Works directorate and specifically by the lead BIL project manager, Ronald Pinzon, who came to the division a year ago after working at the USACE New York District.
“The highlight of working on BIL, especially coming from the district where I worked for about 20 years, is taking all of the experience from other jobs I’ve had and applying it here directly with headquarters regionally, as well as nationally,” said Pinzon. “It’s a whole lot of learning, but it’s also solving issues and barriers that the districts are coming across, and I get to help them with their execution by addressing those challenges.”
Presently, approximately $240 million of NAD’s BIL allocation has been executed. Some project highlights across the region over the past couple of years since BIL was passed include:
The Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration project is in the vicinity of the James and Barren Islands in western Dorchester County, Maryland. It focuses on restoring and expanding island habitat to provide hundreds of acres of wetland and terrestrial habitat for fish, shellfish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals through the beneficial use of dredged material. The project implements a long-term strategy for providing viable placement alternatives to meet the dredging needs of the Port of Baltimore while maximizing the use of dredged materials as a beneficial resource. The project consists of constructing environmental restoration projects at both James and Barren Islands to restore 2,144 acres of remote island habitat (2,072 acres at James Island and 72 acres at Barren Island). BIL appropriated $84 million in construction funds, and the project partnership agreement for the construction phase of the overall $4 billion project was executed Aug. 23, 2022.
At Buffumville Lake in Charlton, Massachusetts, BIL provided more than $530,000 for Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking lot and access improvements. From October 2022 to May 2023 work included removing a shelter, repaving the emergency access road to the beach, increasing ADA parking spaces from three to 10, and building a new paved walkway leading to an ADA-compliant ramp with handrails to the restrooms. The Buffumville team identified the need for this work in 2017 and BIL allowed it to come to fruition. The prior lack of handicapped access was a frequent comment by visitors before the improvements, and according to the site’s park rangers, the team has received many positive comments since the area reopened.
The New York District is leveraging an infusion of $126 million in BIL funding to undertake crucial maintenance and enhancement projects across several vital waterways, including Barnegat Inlet in New Jersey, New York Harbor and the extensive network of channels serving the bustling Port of Newark and Elizabeth in New Jersey. This strategic allocation of funds is poised to fortify the infrastructure that underpins an estimated $15.7 billion in economic activity, both regionally and nationally. The investment will address sediment accumulation, navigational safety, and ecological sustainability, ensuring the shipping and recreational channels remain accessible and reliable. These improvements are expected not only to sustain but to potentially boost economic vitality by optimizing the efficiency of commercial vessel transit and safeguarding the region's reputation as a premier maritime hub.
BIL appropriated $141.7 million in construction funds for the Norfolk Harbor and Channels, 55-ft. Channel Deepening project in Virginia. On Oct. 16, Norfolk District opened bids on USACE’s third construction contract supporting the project. The milestone is significant, because with this path to contract award, the 55-ft. channel project could be ready for use by deeply laden containerships and coal ships as early as the spring of 2025. The contract package also has options for the beneficial use of beach sand at two locations in the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Earlier contracts using BIL funds were awarded in August 2022 for the Channel to Newport News and Norfolk Harbor Inners Channels and in April 2023 for Phase 1 of the Atlantic Ocean Channel. Other portions of the project in Thimble Shoal Channel are nearly completed by the Virginia Port Authority to fulfill their share of the overall project cost of approximately $472 million.
The Inland Waterway from Rehoboth Bay to Delaware Bay project (also known as Lewes & Rehoboth Canal in Sussex County, Delaware) received BIL funding enabling the dredging of the federal channel of the canal for the first time in many years. USACE’s contractor began work in October 2023. The dredged material from the canal will be placed in a facility in Lewes, Delaware, and the contractor will be removing approximately 40,000 cubic yards of sediment at a cost of $1.6 million. The waterway is used by commercial and recreational fishing charter boats, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Delaware Bay and River Cooperative (DBRC). BIL appropriated $3.78 million for Operations and Maintenance funding.
“Throughout the North Atlantic Division, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law brings solid investment to a variety of projects that benefit the people of the region in terms of safety, quality of life and disaster mitigation, to name just a few important aspects,” said Col. John P. Lloyd, NAD commander and division engineer. “This supplemental funding has enhanced USACE’s ability to deliver the program and meet the needs of our state and local partners on projects that will make a difference at the community level.”
USACE’s overall fiscal year spend plans and policy guidance for implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are listed on the headquarters website at: https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Supplemental-Work/BIL/.
“Every time you go out on one of these missions, there are people who’ve just had one of the worst days of their lives, so getting out, being able to do whatever you can to help them put their lives back together and get back on their feet and back to normal is probably the biggest motivation.”
When Eddie LeBlanc, the current team leader for Emergency Support Function 3, Public Works and Engineering responding to the Hawai'i wildfires, reflects on what compels him to serve, he also reflects on a 25-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—one that has prepared him to take on the numerous responsibilities of leading an ESF3 mission team.
LeBlanc started out in construction, taking a student co-op role in the USACE New Orleans District’s Lafayette area office. His construction work eventually led him to Emergency Management, where he was introduced to deploying by becoming part of the Debris Planning and Response Team.
“My first deployment was in 2004, during Hurricane Isabel in Virginia,” he said. “From there I continued deploying for many years in various other positions on the PRT and then became a debris subject matter expert.”
All this experience with the debris team culminated in 2013 with LeBlanc becoming the debris program manager for USACE, then a decade later taking a position as a permanent ESF3 cadre member, one of only five such positions in the agency. The overall team leader and assistant team leader cadre has about 80 people.
He noted, “I think a big part [of being on the cadre] is just helping others. You see the fruits of your labor, helping people get back on their feet after they’ve had such a horrible experience. It’s always good to see the communities come back, especially coming from a state that gets a lot of hurricanes and disasters themselves. I know what it means to have others come in and help you and your family.”
LeBlanc arrived Sept. 4 in Hawai'i to lead the ESF3 response. As the second team leader to rotate in, he quickly began linking up with principal contacts at the State of Hawai'i, Maui County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other partners. Because an ESF3 response is funded through a FEMA mission assignment, it’s especially important to build strong relationships with FEMA leaders on the ground.
“They’re the ones who once we have deployment orders let us know who’s who and what’s expected for the disaster [response],” said LeBlanc.
Shortly after arriving, LeBlanc surveyed the damage of the impact areas on Maui in Kula and Lahaina. Though he had seen wildfires before, serving as the debris program manager and lead debris subject matter expert for the 2017 California wildfires—the first wildfire mission USACE had received—the differences in this event are clear.
“It’s some of the worst devastation I’ve seen in my numerous years deploying,” he said. “It’s definitely different than what I have seen in the past, especially knowing the cultural sensitivity on Maui and [logistical] challenges of it being an island and isolated really puts a lot more perspective on how to manage it.”
Recently USACE stood up a Recovery Field Office as a central location on Maui to help manage the recovery effort. The ESF3 team works in tandem with the RFO to ensure mission assignments are written and executed correctly and to coordinate between the RFO and FEMA for mission requirements.
“We’re doing that continued coordination on what the needs are from the RFO to execute the missions, making sure they have the funding and that we meet any other needs,” he said.
Another important aspect of being an ESF3 team leader is working with PRT action officers to ensure mission resourcing and overseeing the allocation of the mission assignment task orders that act as checks to fund various objectives.
“We’re the conduit that goes back and forth between FEMA and the state to those on the PRTs to coordinate timelines and funding to help keep them on track to complete the mission in a timely manner,” said LeBlanc.
This mission is the first where LeBlanc is the sole team leader. In his past recovery missions where he’s responded in this position, there were multiple team leaders, so this has offered a new learning environment and an opportunity to sharpen his skillset.
“You always learn lessons, and every mission you come away with something different, but coordinating at this level for the first time is a big eye opener and will help me further my confidence and expertise in the position going forward,” he said.
Disaster response also brings its own unique stressors and challenges. LeBlanc credits his family for helping him stay mentally fit to lead.
“I know there’s a strong network back home and having support from my wife and kids after doing this for 20-plus years helps me keep focus on the mission and what I’m doing for others,” he said. “The biggest thing I get out of every mission is the satisfaction of helping others in their time of need.”