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Corps’ director of Civil Works tours LA River, dams, coastal projects

High above the Los Angeles River, project manager Priyanka Wadhawan and senior geological engineer Chris Spitzer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, left, brief Al Lee, director of Civil Works, Senior Executive Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters, about the LA River Ecosystem Restoration project Aug. 22 at Elysium Park in Los Angeles.

Posted on August 31, 2022

The director of Civil Works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers toured several sites along the Los Angeles and Santa Ana rivers, as well as major dams that protect millions of citizens down and upstream of the LA and Prado basins during a recent visit to Southern California.

Alvin Lee, Senior Executive Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters, toured the sites Aug. 22 to 24, as well as visited some of the Corps’ Los Angeles District coastal projects, which also included meeting with partners at the Port of Long Beach and Surfside and Newport beaches.

He was accompanied by Col. Antionette Gant, South Pacific Division commander; Col. Julie Balten, Los Angeles District commander; and John Moreno, South Pacific Division programs director, Senior Executive Service.


The leaders began the visit with a briefing about the LA River Aug. 22 at the district’s headquarters in downtown LA that included the new LA River informative video, which was recently released to the public. The video provides the history of flooding along the river; the Corps’ flood-risk reduction work on the river; and a low-altitude flyover, highlighting ecosystem restoration features the district and its partner – the City of Los Angeles – are working on together.

Following the video, the team headed out to the LA River to one of the features – referred to as Reach 7, which can be best viewed from an overlook high above in Elysian Park, northwest of downtown near Dodger Stadium. Project Manager Priyanka Wadhawan and her team of engineers pointed out areas for Lee and Moreno, where the Corps is currently working.

The LA River Ecosystem Restoration Project is one of three P3 pilot projects across the Corps of Engineers.

“This is a pilot P3 ecosystem restoration project – the first of its kind in the nation – and one of the most complex projects we have in the district,” explained Ana Petkova, program manager for the Mega Projects Division.

Public private partnerships, or P3s, are a tool that can accelerate delivery by providing significant upfront funding, leveraging appropriations while optimizing local participation, and promoting risk sharing in project delivery.

Using P3s can streamline delivery, share risk and provide significant life-cycle cost savings. The goal of the program is to demonstrate the viability of new delivery methods that significantly reduce the cost and duration of project delivery.

The group also toured Reach 4 near the city’s Los Feliz Golf Course, where leaders received further information about the Corps’ project there and its significance for the surrounding community.

At Reach 6, Deborah Weintraub, Chief Deputy Engineer for Los Angeles, met with Lee and Moreno on the Taylor Yard Bridge, a recently opened, orange pedestrian and bicycle bridge built by the city that connects the Elysian Valley community to the planned Taylor Yard G2 River Park on the east side of the LA River. The new bridge near Reach 6 crosses a section of restored, soft-bottom river teeming with wildlife and popular with hikers, making it a natural vantage point. The Army and city partners shared maps, plans and updates with the senior Corps leaders.


The last stop on Aug. 22 was Carbon Canyon Dam, a 1610-foot long, 99-foot-tall earth dam that contains Carbon Canyon Creek. Completed by the Corps in 1960, the dam is located at the northwestern edge of Orange County near Brea, California. Lee and Moreno met with project manager Mike Ragalski, who briefed them on the condition of the dam and its 19.3 square miles of catchment area.


On his second day in the LA District’s area of operations, Lee took part in two senior executive board meetings at the district’s Prado Dam Resident Office in Corona – the first focusing on the Whittier Narrows Dam Safety Modification Project and the second meeting focused on the recent and planned work for and around Prado Dam and the Santa Ana River Mainstem.

The meetings brought together leaders with the Corps’ Southwestern and South Pacific divisions, along with some of the Corps’ partners from Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino counties.

“I appreciate everybody coming together,” said Richard Byrd, director of regional business for the Corps’ Southwestern Division, who chaired the meetings. “This is hard to do – to get everybody in the same room at the same time. I appreciate Mr. Lee’s time and all the commanders who are here … one thing I’ve heard consistently is that the collaboration between our two divisions is going well … when somebody else is in your sandbox, and it’s working well, that’s a good thing.”

Lee agreed that the effort to include both divisions and partners working on the two projects was an important effort for the entire Corps of Engineers.

“Everyone is aware these projects have a lot of visibility at all levels across the enterprise, including with congressional committees and with congressional members,” Lee said, “and the local interests in these communities are very engaged.”

Lee and many of the leaders met again that afternoon at the LA District Baseyard in South El Monte – just down the road from Whittier Narrows Dam in nearby Montebello – where they spoke with 32nd Congressional District Rep. Grace Napolitano, along with several city and county partners, to discuss the Whittier Narrows Dam Safety Modification Project. The group also toured the dam to give Napolitano a closer look at ongoing and planned modifications.


Lee joined LA District and South Pacific Division leaders the next day to meet with engineers and the Corps’ partners at the Port of Long Beach to discuss a planned project in the harbor that would include deepening and widening the federal channel, and completing modifications to turning basins and bend easings to increase channel capacity.

To give all participants a firsthand look, Port of Long Beach leaders hosted a boat tour while discussing the project.

“We’ve always had a really good relationship with the Corps, and we know the importance of that in our missions collectively, especially when it comes to the Deep Draft Navigation Feasibility Study,” said Richard Cameron, deputy executive director for planning and development with the Port of Long Beach. “I especially want to express my appreciation for the LA District, the South Pacific Division and Headquarters as well.”

Today, both the Corps and the Port of Long Beach are in design and delivery mode, he said.

“Just like we need to maintain the nation’s roads and bridges, we also need to maintain our ‘underwater highways’ and keep them safe and navigable,” Cameron said.


That afternoon, Lee accompanied Corps’ leaders to project sites at Surfside and Newport beaches, where they met with LA District subject-matter experts, as well as nonfederal partners and stakeholders, to talk about the planned transporting of 1.7 million cubic yards of sand for beach replenishment along the shoreline.

“Many years ago, the federal government made a commitment to restoring storm-damage-reduction capabilities to more than 12 miles of shoreline in Orange County,” Balten said in an Aug. 16 press conference at Newport Beach. “The project began as a mitigation effort designed as remediation for beach erosion due to federal flood control, navigation and defense projects – with the mitigation meant to last as long as necessary. We understand the need for the sand and the protection it provides for our beach communities, and we stand behind that commitment.

“Now it’s on us, the Corps of Engineers, to deliver this project,” Balten said.


Having Lee tour Los Angeles District projects firsthand was beneficial, Balten said, because it afforded leaders the opportunity to work through challenges and present solutions that could benefit the Corps as a whole.

“Mr. Lee is the lead civilian responsible for delivering the Civil Works program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ enterprise,” she said. “Having him here with us this week to show him the challenges, as well as how we’re getting after delivering our program here in LA, helps (the Corps’ Headquarters) understand how they can support us – here on the ground in LA – but also understand and take some ideas back to the enterprise to work on things that are mutually beneficial across the Corps.”


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