Omaha District Completes First Construction Project Under Tribal Partnership Program

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District recently completed an $11.6 million project in partnership with the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (LBST) to address erosion of shoreline banks in Lower Brule, South Dakota.

Ice and wave action from Lake Sharpe has steadily eroded LBST land since the Fort Randall and Big Bend dams became operational in 1956 and 1966. Prior studies have shown that the shoreline along the project area was eroding at a pace of approximately 13 feet per year, resulting in more than 500 acres of lost land. As a result, environmental habitats were degraded and wastewater sewage lagoons that service the LBST were threatened.

Newly planted trees and shrubs line a trail along a wetland area that was recently constructed as part of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe natural resources preservation and ecosystem restoration project. The Tribal Partnership Program construction project was recently completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. USACE PHOTO BY DELANIE STAFFORD

“The whole part of this project to really remember and think about is protecting the shoreline – to protect the land here now,” said LBST Chairman Clyde Estes during a ceremony July 21 to mark the completion of the project and opening of the Wata Onazin Recreation Area. “This is a very, very important project, and is just one of many that we’re trying to keep pushing forward to stabilize our shoreline to protect the erosion of our tribal homelands.”

To address the erosion, a 5,000-foot-long breakwater structure was built with a backwater wetland area. Following that, approximately 2,000 native trees and shrubs were then planted to restore riparian habitats, and a recreation area was built with a basketball court, outdoor game area, picnic shelters, swimming area, and boat ramp.

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All of these design features will help protect tribal lands and restore natural habitats while providing safe access to the Missouri River, which is critical to the LBST’s cultural, spiritual,
medicinal, and food production needs.

USACE Omaha District Commander Col. Mark Himes (recently retired) acknowledged the importance of the partnership and significance of the project during his remarks at the ceremony.

“Today, we celebrate a significant milestone,” Himes said. “Lower Brule Sioux Tribe continues to pave the way and be actively involved in environmental and social justice to serve the tribal lands, the people and this community.

Visitors utilize a boat ramp at the Wata Onazin Recreation Area July 21, 2023, in Lower Brule, South Dakota. The recreation area is part of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe natural resources preservation and ecosystem restoration project. USACE PHOTO BY DELANIE STAFFORD

“Through your partnership, this project marks the first project in the nation to be constructed under the Tribal Partnership Program.”

U.S. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota also praised the collaboration between the LBST and federal government in getting the project done.

Col. Mark Himes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District commander, provides remarks during a ceremony July 21, 2023, in Lower Brule, South Dakota. The ceremony was held to
mark the completion of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe natural resources preservation and ecosystem restoration Tribal Partnership Program project. USACE PHOTO BY DELANIE STAFFORD

“The folks that worked to make this happen decided that they would work together and that they would listen to one another about what would be the best approach for this community long-term,” Rounds said. “But it would not have happened if your local tribal leaders would not have stepped up and had the patience to make this happen. So, I give credit to your tribal community leaders, for the chairman and for the entire council, for taking the time and the patience to see this through to completion.”

The LBST first proposed a Tribal Partnership Program project in 2004, prompting an erosion study and planning by multiple agencies. The project was eventually initiated in 2017 following amendments to the Waters Resources Development Act of 2016 that authorized construction and cost-sharing for tribal projects to improve America’s water infrastructure needs.

Jaime Pinkham, Secretary of the Army for Civil Works principal deputy assistant, provides remarks during a ceremony July 21, 2023, in Lower Brule, South Dakota. USACE PHOTO BY DELANIE STAFFORD

Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Principal Deputy Assistant Jaime Pinkham emphasized the project’s importance to the Tribal Partnership Program in helping to address the many challenges facing tribal nations.

“Lower Brule has been determined in restoring their homelands, including protecting every acre, which this project symbolizes, as well as promoting an active lifestyle,” Pinkham said. “My boss, Assistant Secretary Connor, has set us out on a course to modernize civil works so that we can harmonize our mission with the visions of native communities and the visions of communities that are too often overlooked or disadvantaged.”

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Chairman Clyde Estes provides opening remarks during the ceremony to mark the completion of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe natural resources preservation and ecosystem restoration Tribal Partnership Program project. USACE PHOTO BY DELANIE STAFFORD

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District is currently working with the LBST on a second project that will improve the shoreline to the north of the first project. This project would create a 2,400-foot-long breakwater and sheltered wetland, about 3.5 miles of shoreline riparian restoration plantings, a 6.9-acre island that would function as a natural and nature-based feature, and a 2.9-acre peninsula that will restore culturally significant native plants that are easily accessible by tribal elders for knowledge-sharing with younger generations.

Himes announced the signing of the feasibility study for the second project during the ceremony to the applause of those in attendance.

“That’s an important step that allows us to continue to move forward on what is going to be about an additional 4 miles of ecosystem restoration and natural resource preservation in this very area,” Himes said. “So, although we stand here and celebrate today, as we should on an extremely successful project, there’s a ton of work ahead of us, and we’re going to continue to move forward with the partnership and collaboration we’ve established to finish what we’ve started.”

This article is featured in the 2023-2024 edition of America’s Engineers: The People, Programs, and Projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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