The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District’s leaders and team members talked about what the District does to maintain, restore, protect, and improve the environment through its many projects and regulatory programs at the 15th annual Georgia Environmental Conference Aug. 23-26.
The environmental conference is noted as the largest, most comprehensive educational opportunity in Georgia and Col. Joseph Geary, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District commander, was a keynote speaker during the plenary sessions Aug. 24.
Vendors from across 35 states displayed their wares and explained their missions at booths and during breakout sessions. The conference was attended by approximately 700 local, state, and federal government officials, business and industry leaders, attorneys, consultants, engineers, developers, landowners, architects, agribusiness leaders, energy experts, water planning districts, universities, public health officials, solid waste, enviro-tech and recycling experts, and others with a strong interest in environmental activities in Georgia and the southeast region.
Other Savannah District speakers included: Kimberly Garvey, Planning Branch Chief; Spencer Davis, Savannah Harbor Expansion Project Program Manager; Jason O’Kane, Regulatory Division Chief, and several other team members, all of whom spoke to attendees throughout the conference about their environmental missions and projects.
“There are countless ways the Savannah District is a leader for the environment,” Geary said. “We consider environmental interests in everything we do. The Corps is deep in the business of environmental protection in the rivers, wetlands, wildlife, sustainable construction, impact mitigation, hydropower, and many other projects throughout our area of responsibility.”
The commander highlighted three topics during his speech: Regulatory, maintaining harbors, and the South Atlantic Coastal Study.
“The regulatory mission is one of the oldest in the federal government,” Geary explained. “It is essential to protecting the nation’s aquatic resources and essential to enabling reasonable development for economic welfare and growth.”
He also talked about the challenges and the role the Corps has in keeping the balance.
“A strong economy and a healthy environment aren’t mutually exclusive,” Geary said. “The Corps has the very important and necessary obligation to keep the two in balance, and we strive to find ways that bring harmony between maintaining our nation’s harbors and protecting the environment.”
At the breakout session, Engineering with Nature: A Regional Update of Resiliency and Restoration, Garvey spoke in-depth about the beneficial use of dredged material.
“The District removes around 5 million cubic yards of sediment from Savannah Harbor annually.” Garvey stated. “We are actively developing strategies with agencies, partners, and stakeholders to include all different forms of beneficial use of dredged material in our annual dredging contracts.”
Some of the beneficial use options include nearshore and beach placement, habitat restoration, thin layer placement and cultural and historical resource protection.
“The benefits of doing this include protecting community infrastructure, habitat restoration and creation as well as enhance coastal storm protection.” Garvey explained. “At Jekyll Island, it better aligns engineering and natural processes to sustainably address chronic erosion by applying beneficially used dredged sediment to improve public access to Driftwood Beach, maintain existing storm risk reduction structures and improve sea turtle habitat.”
Throughout the conference, the success of sea turtles was discussed, and Geary also addressed the topic, noting the successes at Jekyll Island.
“We have made many changes and improvements in harbor maintenance,” said Geary. “All efforts have protected not only whales and sturgeon, but sea turtles, too. This year, there have been record-breaking numbers of successful hatchings along the coast and some records were broken right here on Jekyll Island. We hope our dredging practices have played a part in that success.”
The commander closed by stating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a critical partner to those who work toward the flourishing of both people and wildlife in Georgia.
“Partnerships have always been important to us,” Geary stated. “My command philosophy emphasizes three core attributes of success for our organization, and partnership is one of the three. Our partners play a vital role in helping us ensure we’re doing all we can to maintain, restore, protect, and improve the environment through our many projects and regulatory programs.”
The conference website states the mission of the conference is to create and effectively operate an annually occurring Georgia Environmental Conference providing fresh, new, high value, well-balanced, diverse, and relevant educational content with positive impacts on current and future practitioners and the environment of Georgia and the Southeast region.