Photo of the MV PUGET snagging debris and removing navigational hazards near Whidbey Island, Washington, Jan. 20, 2023. The debris recovery vessel for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, operates under Congressional authority to remove floating trees, brush and woody debris and hazards to navigation. (USACE photo)
Photo of the MV PUGET snagging debris and removing navigational hazards near Whidbey Island, Washington, Jan. 20, 2023. The debris recovery vessel for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, operates under Congressional authority to remove floating trees, brush and woody debris and hazards to navigation. (USACE photo)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Motor Vessel (MV) PUGET ‘s mission is all about keeping other vessels safe.

The debris recovery vessel patrols Puget Sound inland waters, collecting debris and obstructions that may damage vessels. For their job, the crew of five uses an onboard crane, chainsaws, and other equipment for their dangerous job of snagging debris out of the frigid waters.

Not surprisingly, they must apply risk management practices, to ensure employees minimize risking injury, damage or harm as they execute tasks and serve the nation.

It is the district’s “Taking Care of People” approach that secured Seattle District’s PUGET crew the Army Risk Management Award. Director of Army Safety and U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center Commander Brig. Gen. Jonathan Byrom presented the crew with their award at the USACE-owned and operated Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Locks), Sept. 21.

“The fact that you had the wisdom to slow down and not cause an accident that would have caused significant loss of time and resources, must be recognized,” said Byrom. “If we can get soldiers across the entire Army to have this mindset, it would change our safety culture.”

Group photo of Seattle District's debris recovery crew MV PUGET, flanked by (left) Brig. Gen. Jonathan Byrom, director of Army Safety and U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center Commanding general, and (right) Brig. Gen. Geoff Van Epps, commander of USACE, Northwestern Division. Seattle District's Commander Kathryn Sanborn stands center. Byrom recognized the crew with the Army Risk Management Award at the USACE-owned and operated Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Locks), Seattle, Washington, Sept. 21.
Group photo of Seattle District's debris recovery crew MV PUGET, flanked by (left) Brig. Gen. Jonathan Byrom, director of Army Safety and U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center Commanding general, and (right) Brig. Gen. Geoff Van Epps, commander of USACE, Northwestern Division. Seattle District's Commander Kathryn Sanborn stands center. Byrom recognized the crew with the Army Risk Management Award at the USACE-owned and operated Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Locks), Seattle, Washington, Sept. 21.

Byrom said he intends to share the PUGET crew’s example of applying deliberate risk management practices across the Army.  

USACE Northwestern Division Commander Brig. Gen. Geoff Van Epps attended the ceremony and shared the Army safety director’s views.

“The PUGET crew absolutely exemplified the right approach to safety,” said Van Epps. “The team was not only deliberate and methodical in their approach to risk management, but they respected and took the Army Corps’ mission seriously. We always advocate the right way to do things.”

For the crew, the award confirmed their obligation to keep safety at the forefront of everything they do.  

“Safety is always our No. 1 priority in navigation and on the PUGET,” said Captain Stephen “Skipp” Green. “We encourage this mindset from the top down, and it’s how I believe we caught this issue. I always put my trust in what the crane operator’s decision for the lift is, whether it can or can’t be accomplished.”

Feb. 14, 2023, was like any other workday. The crew’s task, to use its mounted crane to lift two, 6-ton small lock floats from the small lock at the Locks, was part of their standard operations. In fact, the crew, part of the district’s Waterway Maintenance Unit (WMU), had completed this maneuver using the same equipment and configuration countless times before with no issues.

For Small Craft Operator Luis Hernandez, completing this critical lift for the first time on Valentine’s Day presented the ideal opportunity to focus on risk management.   

“As the person sitting in the seat, the crane operator is ultimately responsible for pre-planning during all lifts including routine ones and making on-the-spot decisions during daily operations,” said Green. “They ensure the crew’s safety. The decisions they make are critical and always changing. Routine is what gets everyone in trouble. Attention to detail is key.”   

Original load charts show the critical lift is under 75 percent of the crane's rated load. Concerned the new load charts might be more restrictive, Green, Hernandez, Crane Operator Jordan St. John, Section Marine Machinery Mechanic Joshua Deming, Small Craft Operator Silad On, and Locks Maintenance Lead John Ryan, reassessed the lift rather than assuming it was still safe.

With this approach, and after taking cursory measurements based on the tentative center location, they determined the lift might not be within specifications according to the new load charts. After Hernandez completed the critical lift plan, the team confirmed the lift may be at risk with the estimated radius and rigging.

“Luis ‘really went to town’ digging into all the resources available to him,” said Green. “He looked through the old load charts and noticed that while it was being performed safely and nothing had changed with the crane or on the vessel, they weren’t ‘within specs’ of our current load charts…That’s when the conversations started.”

They began collaborating with the Marine Design Center, the Corps of Engineers' center of expertise and experience in developing and applying innovative strategies and technologies for naval architecture and marine engineering. This led to the crew updating its load charts, fully aware that any updates could affect the crane’s lift.

By testing their theory in the real world on a previously successful routine task, and applying deliberate risk management principles, the crew reduced the risk of potential costly accidents and future catastrophes.

“The team made the unpopular decision to go against the norm and complete a task they’d routinely done, but in a more methodical and intentional way, to prevent a mishap,” said WMU Chief Bradford Schultz II. “Their course of action empowered the WMU to set a precedent of applying risk management techniques now, to avoid disasters later.”

The Army Safety Awards Program recognizes, promotes, and motivates success in accident prevention through risk management, by recognizing safety accomplishments of individuals and units in the field.

“Fostering a safety-conscious environment, that includes everyone being a part of that process, leads to an amazing team,” said Green. “The PUGET provides an invaluable service to the Army Corps, the American public and the Pacific Northwest.”

Breanna McBride, a senior architect at the Seattle District, is the 2023 Engineering and Construction Community of Practice Architect of the Year. (Courtesy image)
Breanna McBride, a senior architect at the Seattle District, is the 2023 Engineering and Construction Community of Practice Architect of the Year. (Courtesy image)

For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2023 Architect of the Year, the best part of the job is helping others reach their full potential. “It’s rewarding knowing that other people are benefiting from the services that I can provide,” said Breanna McBride, a senior architect at the Seattle District.

Each year, USACE’s Engineering and Construction Community of Practice recognizes employees and teams for excellence in performance, leadership, professional development and support. Ms. McBride is the second Architect of the Year from Seattle District since the award’s inception. This award recognizes her contributions to the field of architecture, technical leadership on large, complex projects and her work developing technical lead training and resources.

After leaving the private sector in 2019 to join the Seattle District, Ms. McBride found an institutional knowledge gap among new architects serving as technical leads on military construction projects. Ms. McBride then came up with a simple, yet effective solution: gather resources into a toolkit and start a monthly training series covering different aspects of the job.

“It’s a good place to find all the information. It’s a little bit like a Wikipedia page, where we can all build on it over time, keep improving it and making it better,” said Ms. McBride.

As support grew for Ms. McBride’s toolkit, word spread to other sections and districts. At an American Institute of Architects conference earlier this year, Ms. McBride shared her toolkit with 50 architects from other districts, many of whom now want to implement a similar program back home. This new precedent for knowledge sharing throughout USACE is also a testament to her mentor and trainer roles.

In addition to her work as a senior architect, Ms. McBride is involved in a variety of efforts throughout the district. As the sustainability coordinator, she develops resources, procedures and training to improve awareness of sustainability throughout district projects. Not one to rest on her laurels, Ms. McBride is also developing a sustainability-based toolkit in conjunction with USACE Headquarters and Northwestern Division to be used throughout the enterprise. Lastly, Ms. McBride also leads the monthly Design Branch Users Group meeting to troubleshoot issues and discuss solutions.

“I have a lot of different things that I’m involved in because whenever I see an area that can use improvement, I step up and try to make things better,” said Ms. McBride.

Ms. McBride has a bachelor’s degree in art history and minored in math at the University of California, Los Angeles. And due to her father’s business in the ceiling tile industry, her interest in construction started early.

After earning a master’s degree in architecture at San Diego’s NewSchool of Architecture and Design, she worked on a variety of projects that supported her love of design and logistics, from schools and country clubs to multifamily and residential properties.

A common theme that underpins Ms. McBride’s work, from her architectural projects to her mentorship efforts, is her passion for improving the world. 

“I don’t like to sit by and accept the status quo,” explained Ms. McBride. “I’m always trying to look for ways that we can improve. I think in the architecture, design and construction fields, there are lots of opportunities to have impacts on the built environment, the way people use spaces, providing universally accessible spaces for people, and making sure we’re keeping the environment in mind for sustainability.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, will repair three Skagit River levees across five work sites at a combined cost of $4,622,400. (USACE image)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, will repair three Skagit River levees across five work sites at a combined cost of $4,622,400. (USACE image)

The commencement of permanent and final repairs of flood-damaged Skagit River levees has turned the once quiet Skagit River Basin into a bustling construction scene of dump trucks, excavators and workers spanning five work sites and three diking districts simultaneously.

The estimated eight-week long repairs kicked off in late July and will address a half-mile stretch of levees at a combined cost of $4,622,400. Additional levee rehabilitation work is planned for Skagit Diking Districts 17 and 22 in the coming weeks.    

Under a cost-share agreement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will cover 80% of the project cost, while the Skagit Diking Districts funds the remaining 20%.

In response to levee damages resulting from consecutive floods in 2020 and 2021, 2,400 feet of riverward banks will be repaired. In the damaged state the levees flood defense is significantly reduced. Repairs to slope failures, bank stabilization, scoured riprap armor, and cracking of riverward benches will restore the levees to their originally designed and built 50-year level of protection, or a 2% chance of flooding annually.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, will repair scoured slope damage of the Skagit River DD 3 levee due to a 2021 flood event. (USACE photo)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, will repair scoured slope damage of the Skagit River DD 3 levee due to a 2021 flood event. (USACE photo)

The impact on recreation and traffic is expected to be minimal and temporary at most work sites. The most noticeable impact will be on a heavily-used walkway for cyclists and pedestrians that connects Lions Park to downtown Mount Vernon.

Like other levee repair projects, the riverbank work will be carried out within the designated "fish window" period between June 15 and August 31, which allows construction crews to operate in the water with the least interference to salmon populations.

Janet Curran, USACE levee program manager, highlighted the significance of the Skagit River and lower Skagit Valley as critical habitats for threatened salmon species. "We are implementing several measures to mitigate impacts on salmon habitat, including the use of anchored root wads to enhance aquatic habitat."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, will repair the slope damage to the Skagit River DD 3 levee due to a 2020 flood event. (USACE photo)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, will repair the slope damage to the Skagit River DD 3 levee due to a 2020 flood event. (USACE photo)

Curran also mentioned that the planting of two rows of willow tree bundles along the repair sites. As the planted willows mature, they will provide shade, cover, and a source of terrestrial insects for juvenile salmon to eat as the young migrate to sea.

Throughout the planning process USACE officials coordinated, consulted and worked with federal, tribal and state agencies, including: Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Services, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Samish Indian Tribe, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, Tulalip Tribes of Washington, Washington State Department of Ecology, State Historic Preservation Office and Skagit County.

In the time-honored tradition of passing the unit flag, Col. Kathryn P. Sanborn assumed command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, here, Tuesday.

Sanborn replaces Col. Alexander “Xander” Bullock as the district’s 53rd commander. She joins the district after serving as the South Pacific Division’s deputy commander in San Francisco, California.

Colonel Kathryn P. Sanborn, commander of the Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (U.S. Army photo)
Colonel Kathryn P. Sanborn, commander of the Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (U.S. Army photo)

Col. Sanborn leads a team of 845 employees who undertake military construction in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon; and are responsible for an extensive civil works engineering and construction mission in Washington, Idaho and Montana. Seattle District’s programs also include preservation of historic structures, and hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste cleanup. Seattle District manages $1.1 billion dollars' worth of work annually.

“Now, more than ever, the nation needs a capable, competent, and trusted Corps of Engineers to serve the Army and the nation, and to collaborate with our federal, state and local governments, tribal, industry, non-government partners and academia, to solve the engineering and scientific challenges we're facing,” said Sanborn. 

“I am extraordinarily honored and excited for the opportunity to take command of Seattle District and work with this incredible team and our diverse stakeholders to deliver solutions to the toughest challenges and serve the Pacific Northwest communities,” she added.

Col. Sanborn is a graduate of the Engineer Officer Basic and Captain's Career Courses, Joint Engineer Operations Course, the Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College. A licensed Professional Engineer in Vermont and a certified Project Management Professional, Col. Sanborn holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from West Point, a Master of Science in Civil & Environmental Engineering from the University of Vermont, a Master of Science in Engineering Management and certificate in Construction Management with the University of Missouri-Rolla, a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College., and a doctorate in Civil Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Seattle District's mission is trifold: to provide engineering expertise and water resource stewardship, fulfill its commitments to its tribal partners, and deliver world-class solutions to protect and serve the Pacific Northwest. 

In addition to providing military and civil public works services and support for other agencies, the district plays a key role in environmental protection and improvement, from protecting wetlands to ecological restoration and cleaning up hazardous and toxic waste pollution. 

The district’s civil works boundaries encompass 99,000 square miles and contain 4,700 miles of shoreline. The boundaries include the Columbia River system upstream of the mouth of the Yakima River, much of eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and Western Montana to the Continental Divide.

Schematic showing modeling sequences that can be used to support decision making under the effects of climate change. Coarse Global Climate Model (GCM) projections are downscaled and then run through hydrology and impact modeling to produce an ensemble of high-resolution hydro-regulated streamflow conditions. The ensemble composite is used to identify the frequency of negative impacts under current operations and informs adaptive management planning. This can be repeated and compared for multiple operational scenarios to assess how operations could be altered to maintain or decrease the frequency of negative impacts. (Courtesy Jane Harrell/USACE)
Schematic showing modeling sequences that can be used to support decision making under the effects of climate change. Coarse Global Climate Model (GCM) projections are downscaled and then run through hydrology and impact modeling to produce an ensemble of high-resolution hydro-regulated streamflow conditions. The ensemble composite is used to identify the frequency of negative impacts under current operations and informs adaptive management planning. This can be repeated and compared for multiple operational scenarios to assess how operations could be altered to maintain or decrease the frequency of negative impacts. (Courtesy Jane Harrell/USACE)

Nothing screams Team of Teams or Innovation louder than earning one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering and Construction Community of Practice’s (ECCoP) highest accolades.

The Northwestern Division Columbia River Climate Change Team received the ECCoP Climate Champion (Team) Award for their work on the Columbia River Treaty Vulnerability Assessment and contributions to district, regional, and national climate product development.

Integrating climate change into long-term planning studies has been a Northwestern Division, Seattle, Portland, and Walla Walla Districts, and their partners’ priority for over 15 years.  

The team’s awarding-winning work includes supporting the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), currently in active negotiations with Canada on future basin water management.

The team incorporated modeling results, from the latest River Management Joint Operating Committee (RMJOC) planning studies, into their future climate vulnerability assessment of the Columbia River Reservoir System operations. The team also supported adaptive management planning to build resilience against hydroclimatic and future hydrologic Columbia River Basin change.

“The national recognition is an honor,” said Seattle District civil engineer and team lead Jane Harrell. “I hope exposure of this team’s work promotes and fosters innovation in how we plan and prepare for the effects of climate change.”

Harrell specializes in dataset and data analysis tool development to support climate change-impacted hydrology and resource assessments for the Pacific Northwest.

Fellow team awardees include Hydraulic Engineers Jason Chang and Reyn Aoki (both with Seattle District), Jeff Arnold (MITRE Corporation), and Chris Frans with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).  

Seattle District’s Meteorologist Michael Warner provides atmospheric science and climate science support to studies involving the Columbia River Basin and the treaty. Warner, who holds a doctorate in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, Seattle, gives real-time weather forecasting for the district’s water management and emergency management hydrologists.

A sustaining team element is its members’ diverse backgrounds – in engineering, atmospheric sciences, climate science, hydrology, and reservoir operations – that have led to unique opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and various academic and research institutions to evaluate the effects of climate change in the Columbia River Basin.

“It's a privilege to work with this team and I feel honored to be part of it, said Jeremy Giovando, a research civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center-Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (ERDC-CRREL).

Giovando, who has been a CRT/RMJOC climate change team member since 2009, applies his background in environmental and civil engineering into researching various civil works issues including climate change impacts on hydrology, post-wildfire hydrology, snowpack, and river ice mechanics.

“I think the award represents the power of a high-functioning team and has provided a template for how to directly include climate change impacts for USACE project,” said Giovando.

Another instance is collaborating with Bonneville Power Administration and the USBR, leading studies to develop an ensemble of historical and hydrological projections and to examine Columbia River Reservoir System’s climate change resiliency.

Kristian Mickelson, Seattle District’s Columbia River Treaty Hydrology & Hydraulics technical lead, has also been involved since 2009. “I felt really lucky back then being able to use data I helped develop at the University of Washington, and then apply it here at the Corps of Engineers,” said Mickelson.

“Through the years, this team continues to push the science forward to best prepare the region for understanding the impacts that will be caused from climate change.”

Additionally, partnering with the National Center for Atmospheric Research led to the team develop datasets using the latest modeling advancements, and climate knowledge to produce credible meteorological and hydrological conditions and responses of water resource systems.

The datasets enable the team to create a strong uncertainty depiction and risk to managing and planning water PNW region water resources.

“It feels good to be a part of meaningful and interesting work such as this.” said Portland District Water Resources Civil Engineer Keith Duffy, who works on river hydraulic modeling, rainfall runoff computing, reservoir and climate change assessment and data analyses projects. His climate change assessment planning studies date back to 2010.

The combination of diverse expertise, strong connections to the research community and long collaborative effort history makes conditions ideal for essential advancements in how USACE develops datasets and modeling tools toward relevant and reliable applications for decision-making frameworks and uses climate change information to support long-term planning for regional water management.

USACE’s Institute for Water Resources Hydrologic Engineering Center (IWR-HEC) Civil Engineer Evan Heisman, applauded his fellow awardees for continuing to push the boundaries of what can be done with projecting reservoir operations under climate change, and for their proactive approach in understanding how climate change impacts USACE’s mission managing flood risk, hydropower, ecosystems, navigation, and other reservoir system impacts across the Nation. 

From developing decision-support tools to anticipate potential hydroclimatic change to planning for increased resilience for water resource infrastructure, the Climate Champion Team's efforts help advance understanding of and preparation for future climate change in the Pacific Northwest. 

Every year in June, USACE’s Engineering and Construction Awards Program recognizes employees’ and teams' contributions of excellence in performance, leadership, professional development and community support in its engineering and construction career fields.

The ‘Team of Teams’ mindset is embedded into Seattle District’s strategic vision to deliver strong to the Pacific Northwest. Normalizing what currently seems revolutionary and shaping the USACE  future through a culture of continual process improvement, modernization and innovation, are key elements in the district’s operational plan.

Repairs to the Quillayute Sea dike protecting the Quileute Tribe’s 800-year-old fishing village, will begin this fall.

The $5.7 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repair project will protect the La Push community within the Quileute Indian Tribe’s reservation land on the Olympic Peninsula’s northwest coast in Clallam County, Washington.

Aerial photo of the lower half-mile of the Quillayute estuary, the marina and waterfront area of La Push, and a portion of the eastern shore of James Island, Washington, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District plans to repair the Quillayute Sea dike in September 2023. The dike is vital to support the Coast Guard Station Quillayute River, which performs search-and-rescue operations from the marina located on the reservation, and whose responsibility covers 63 miles of the Pacific Ocean coast and extends 50 nautical miles offshore.
(Photo By Nicole Celestine)

“The dike is also vital to support U.S. Coast Guard Station Quillayute River,” said Michael Suh, project manager, which performs search-and-rescue operations from the marina located on the reservation. The station’s area of responsibility covers 63 miles of Pacific Ocean coast and extends 50 nautical miles offshore.

The dike protects the Quillayute River Navigation Channel by reducing incoming wave transmissions. This protection is critical because damage from wave and/or current forces the dike has experienced over its lifetime has made it undersized and no longer able to provide the needed protection to the community.

Seattle-based Duwamish-Pacific Joint Venture should begin the project Sept. 1, 2023. The project will restore the dike structure to its authorized height 8 feet above mean lower low water within the approved in-water work window Sept. 1, 2023, through March 1, 2024.

This work window is also beneficial because wave and tide conditions are favorable.

The Quileute Tribe also relies heavily upon the marina for its ocean access.

The dike repair project also benefits commercial and recreational fishermen, and boaters.

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