Sen. Richard Burr kicked off the 2014 Federal Construction, Infrastructure & Environment (FEDCON) Summit on Oct. 16 at the Wilmington Convention Center. The event is co-sponsored by the North Carolina Military Business Center.
More than 24 federal agencies, an unprecedented number, participated in this year’s event, according to N.C. Military Business Center (NCMBC) Executive Director Scott Dorney. NCMBC organizes the annual event which began nine years ago, and brings together federal government officials and companies that want to secure their business. All area military installations and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts with oversight of civil works and military construction projects in North Carolina were represented at this year’s summit. USACE units participating included representatives from South Atlantic Division (SAD) and from Wilmington, Savannah and Charleston districts.
The two-year federal budget for FY 2014 and 2015 has money to address needed projects that went unfunded during the sequestration, as well as projects that should be funded before the sequestration begins again in FY 2016, Dorney said. This means more opportunities for North Carolina companies.
“The message of NCMBC is “opportunity,” Dorney said. “Our military truly does mean business for your business. The hosts, sponsors and partners in this summit are confident that today’s program will provide the critical market intelligence and knowledge of functional tools you need to help your company engage successfully in this market.”
FY 2016, all military speakers noted, looks lean.
“Sequestration impacts will become effective, once again, on Oct. 1, 2014,” said Col. Donald Walker, deputy commander, South Atlantic Division (SAD), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If sequestration is not taken off the table, FY 2016 will look more like FY 2001 when it comes to the Corps’ budget, Walker said.
“This (sequestration) is not an election issue; resources are already tight. I encourage you to make sure your voice is heard (by your elected officials),” Walker said. “There is some good news; SAD is poised well. Our end strength did not grow much, so we won’t have to downsize much.”
The SAD designs and builds major military facilities for the Army and Air Force in the Southeast. Serving 11 major Army posts and 13 Air Force bases, the division builds barracks, hospitals, office buildings, commissaries, and other facilities to meet the needs of the American military.
Thirty-three multiple-purpose projects in the Southeast provide citizens with flood control, hydroelectric power, water supply, recreation, navigation and wildlife enhancement. The SAD operates and maintains more than 6,000 miles of federal navigable channel and 29 major harbors in the region. The division also has a growing environmental restoration workload, including the largest, single environmental restoration project in the world, the Everglades Restoration in south Florida.
Renovation, environmental and infrastructure projects are what contractors need to focus on in the near future as federal resources dwindle, said Col. Steven Baker, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) engineer and former commander of the Wilmington District.
“While budgets are slashed and burned, USASOC is playing catch-up in planning, design and construction. We have $1.5 billion in ongoing work worldwide. Our commander, Gen. (Joseph) Votel, will continue to push for continued funding.” Votel is the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). USASOC falls under the auspices of SOCOM.
In the interim, renovation is the name of the game, Baker said. “In lieu of a MILCON project to replace our old headquarters building, we are going to renovate floor by floor over the next 10 years to make it operate as a three-star headquarters.”
Those companies interested in civil works projects in North Carolina need to know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has four different districts operating in the state, Wilmington District Commander Army Col. Kevin Landers, Sr., told those attending the U.S. Army and Air Force Program and Issues session. The Corps’ boundaries for civil works are defined by watershed, the reason Huntington, Norfolk, Charleston and Wilmington districts all operate in the state.
“At Fort Bragg, Wilmington District manages the U.S. Special Operations Command portfolio,” Landers said. Additionally, the district manages military projects at the Military Ocean Terminal Sunnypoint (MOTSU). Outside of USASOC, Savannah District manages military construction at Fort Bragg.
All military officials participating in the summit concluded that renovation of existing facilities, environmental and infrastructure projects will replace new military construction as the Department of Defense moves into the lean years of FY 2016/17/18.
While the military construction boom is winding down in North Carolina, the state is still home to $5.7 billion in total federal contracts including about $3 billion with the Department of Defense, Dorney said.
This year’s event featured some pre-Summit activities on Wednesday, Oct. 15, which included a site visit to the Wilmington District’s new fish passage system at Rock Arch Rapids, Lock and Dam 1 on the Cape Fear River. More than 40 participants braved the rainy weather and traveled to the dam for a briefing on the design, construction and operation of the system, the Corps’ first such project on the East Coast.
The river’s lock and dam projects had made it difficult for fish to swim upstream, harming the fish reproductive cycle as well as depressing the fishing in locations upriver. The fish passage is intended to facilitate the ability of fish to migrate upriver to spawn.
The ramp, a $13 million, two-year Army Corps of Engineers project, is the first of its kind on the East Coast and could serve as a blueprint for similar structures elsewhere if substantial numbers of fish use it to access spawning grounds upstream. The ramp looks more like a natural river rapids than a dam.
Large rocks were placed over the dam, extend downstream and create pools. Migratory fish can leapfrog over the rapids, resting in the pools between jumps. The project maintains the dam’s integrity and upstream water level, which serves as the reservoir for potable water for Wilmington and Brunswick counties. If the dam had been removed to facilitate fish migrations, local governments would have had to locate another water source.