In a virtual get-together held mid-February, members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering and Construction Department, operations leaders from the Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans Districts, project managers, regional team members, environmental partners, and other representatives from the St. Louis District, all came together for their annual Mississippi River Channel Improvement meeting to discuss environmental projects and other current channel improvement issues.
Before diving into the specifics of what this team does and what the meeting covered, we asked what the Channel Improvement Team’s mission is? Why does this team meet every year without fail?
“Our mission is navigation, flood risk management, and environmental stewardship,” Regional Channel Improvement Coordinator Andrew Smothers said in describing the Channel Improvement Program. “So, we keep the river open for traffic (navigation), keep the side channel intact to protect the top (levee) (flood risk management), and try to do everything in tune with mother nature (environmental stewardship).”
This year, the team met virtually due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, but that didn’t stop them from having a full and productive three-day meeting.
“Specifically, the team reviewed the previous fiscal year and the upcoming year in terms of revetment and dike work in the lower three districts -- Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans,” Smothers explained. “The regional team matched regional priority items with current budget projects, reviewed the past season in detail, showed proposed dike work, reviewed the revetment schedule for the upcoming year, and provided updates on current strategic initiatives.”
Revetment work includes clearing and snagging operations, bank grading, and the mat sinking unit.
“We are planning another full revetment season, and each district presented their top revetment sites to operate, pointing out challenges and overall problems needing to be addressed,” Smothers said. “We will likely schedule over 200,000 squares for the FY21-22 season, with many of those sites presented during the meeting.”
Smothers said the team determines regional priorities in the November Technical Meeting for revetments and dikes.
“Then we match up those priorities with budgetary allocations, right of way availability, and several other constructability issues to determine the sinking schedule and schedule of rock (dike) work for the upcoming season,” he added. “Typically, 30 revetment sites and around five to six dikes sites are prioritized each year in the technical meeting.”
Additionally, the Channel Improvement Team is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to include notches in dikes as well as strategically placing piles of woody debris inside channels to encourage environmental benefits.
“We then work with the USFWS to identify the best locations and elevations for these features,” Smothers added.
On the third day, the regional team presents strategic objectives and future long-term plans for the program.
“The third day we looked at the strategic vision for the Channel Improvement Project, which included an update on Armor 1, the new robot sinking unit, scheduled for completion in 2023, as well as a new Bank Grading Unit (BGU), scheduled for completion the same year,” Smothers said. “We reviewed a current study on mat casting and talked about a new process of paying for our work with the elimination of Military Interdepartmental Purchase Requests (MIPR) from USACE Headquarters. And we finished up by showing changes in the updated Project Management Plan (PMP) for the project.”
Overall, Smothers said the meeting was a success, and many issues were discussed and resolved. Congratulations to the team for everything accomplished and for managing such a critical piece of the Mississippi River and Tributaries project.