Corps of Engineers coastal recovery operations underway following Hurricane Matthew

Jacksonville District
Published Oct. 21, 2016
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District employees are supporting coastal assessment and recovery work throughout Florida in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Immediately after the storm passed, Jacksonville District emergency survey crews and coastal engineers worked in close coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard and local port authorities to quickly assessed eight ports on the east coast of Florida. All Florida federal harbors and ports are now open.

"After a storm, assessing the navigational aids and waterways are a top priority for the coast guard to ensure port closure times are minimized, and commerce can resume," said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard District Seven Public Affairs Officer. The Coast Guard deploys assets from throughout the east coast to expedite the process and coordinates with pilots, port authorities, and with partner agencies to ensure the ports are opened expeditiously but also safely.

One of the Corps primary missions is to also ensure that traffic can move safely, reliably, and efficiently. This mission is especially critical following storm events to help reestablish supply chains.

“Prior to Matthew's approach, we positioned our seven survey vessels in safe harbor and then launched them as soon as possible to assess shoaling conditions and other potential hazards to navigation,” said Col. Jason Kirk, District commander. “In close coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, our survey teams worked tirelessly to expedite this process, collecting and analyzing information required to open ports, and helping to prioritize future emergency work.”

The district also quickly started work with the Coast Guard and Florida Department of Environmental Protection to assess beaches affected by the storm.

“The Coast Guard flew us over the northeastern Florida coastline so we could assess and photograph damages,” said Jason Engle, chief of Jacksonville District’s Water Resources Engineering Branch. “Moderate to heavy beach and dune erosion was noted throughout the entire inspection area. Significant damage occurred to public and private infrastructure, primarily in the form of flooding or undermining/erosion. The majority of the heavy infrastructure damage was observed in Volusia, St. Johns and Flagler counties.”

The assessment work will continue over the coming weeks to develop courses of action that address problems resulting from the storm. Staff conducted initial assessments earlier this week, and are now conducting more detailed on-the-ground inspections with local governments to identify damage not readily apparent during the initial reconnaissance.

While Hurricane Matthew resulted in significant erosion on northeastern Florida beaches, preliminary findings show the federal projects performed well.

“Where we constructed beach protection projects, we are finding that they did their job – eroding and absorbing wave energy to protect landside structures behind them," said Tim Murphy, Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management. Initial assessments showed that the projects performed as designed and drastically reduced landside damages while sustaining a moderate and predictable level of erosion damage.

Federal shore protection projects are designed and constructed so the beach erodes during storms while protecting roads and structures. Hurricane Matthew proved how critical the beach, dunes and vegetation are to protecting communities, said Jackie Keiser, director of the Regional Sediment Management Regional Center of Expertise and the District lead for coastal recovery efforts.

District engineers and scientists use the best technologies available to make these projects more cost-efficient, including Regional Sediment Management - using appropriate dredged materials from navigation work to place on shore and environmental restoration projects. Keiser said management of these operations created value on the order of $100 million in the South Atlantic Division alone in Fiscal Year 2016. “We’ll use regional sediment management philosophies as we evaluate post storm requirements for our federal channels and beaches,” she said.

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Jacksonville District placed more than 7.5 million cubic yards of sand on 38.5 miles of eroded beaches in Florida as part of the Flood Control and Coastal Emergency (FCCE) program. This included 22 unscheduled projects, more than $145 million in emergency contracts, and, by combining projects – a cost savings of about $20 million.

Jacksonville District has the largest shore protection program in the nation, and recently initiated the Regional Sediment Management Center of Expertise program that covers the South Atlantic Division area of operations (Georgia, North and South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama). The District constructs and maintains more than 30 percent of the nation’s total shore protection projects, including 25 projects in 17 counties and more than 134 miles of shoreline.

The next steps in the Corps coastal recovery process include receiving information from deployed reconnaissance teams, receiving sponsor requests for assistance, requesting and receiving funds, completing reports within 45 days of sponsor letters, and sending reports to higher headquarters for decision about future work.

The below information summarizes the Corps’ emergency program authorities.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has authority under PL 84-99, Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies (FCCE) (33 U.S.C. 701n) (69 Stat. 186) for emergency management activities to protect human life and improved property, reduce human suffering, help communities recover from the effects of disasters, and mitigate damage and future threats. Under PL 84-99, the Chief of Engineers, acting for the Secretary of the Army, is authorized to undertake activities including disaster preparedness, Advance Measures, emergency operations (Flood Response and Post Flood Response), rehabilitation of flood control works threatened or destroyed by flood, protection or repair of federally authorized shore protective works threatened or damaged by coastal storm, and provisions of emergency water due to drought or contaminated source.

Preparedness: PL 84-99 establishes an emergency fund for preparedness for emergency response to natural disasters; for flood fighting and rescue operations; for rehabilitation of flood control and hurricane protection structures. Disaster preparedness activities include coordination, planning, training and conduct of response exercises with local, state and federal agencies.

Response Activities: PL 84-99 allows the Corps of Engineers to supplement State and local entities in flood fighting urban and other non-agricultural areas under certain conditions (Engineering Regulation 500-1-1 provides specific details). All flood fight efforts require a Project Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed by the Public Sponsor and a requirement for the Sponsor to remove all flood fight material after the flood has receded. PL 84-99 also authorizes emergency water support and drought assistance in certain situations and allows for “advance measures” assistance to prevent or reduce flood damage conditions of imminent threat of unusual flooding.

Rehabilitation: Under the authority of PL 84-99, an eligible flood protection system can be rehabilitated if damaged by a flood event. The flood system would be restored to its pre-disaster status at no cost to the Federal system owner, and at 20% cost to the eligible non-Federal system owner. All systems considered eligible for PL 84-99 rehabilitation assistance have to be in the Rehabilitation and Inspection Program (RIP) prior to the flood event. Acceptable operation and maintenance by the public levee sponsor are verified by levee inspections conducted by the Corps on a regular basis. The Corps has the responsibility to coordinate levee repair issues with interested Federal, State, and local agencies following natural disaster where flood control works are damaged.

Under Public Law 93-288 (the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act), the Corps uses its engineering expertise and its response and recovery capabilities to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in responding to disasters and emergencies as the lead Federal agency for Emergency Support Function (ESF) #3, Public Works and Engineering under the provisions of the National Response Framework (NRF). FEMA issues USACE ESF #3 response and recovery missions under the NRF for Civil Emergency/Response (any response to the urgent needs of civilians and/or state/local governments) and Civil Disaster (any formally declared emergency involving civilians and/or civil governments) (to include technological, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), biological and chemical). These mission assignments are designated as either response (National Ice, National Water, Commodities, Power, or Structural Specialists to Urban Search and Rescue) or recovery (Debris, Temporary Roofing, Temporary Housing, Critical Infrastructure, or Infrastructure Assessment). As such, FEMA funds these activities through the Stafford Act as a result of a Presidential declaration.