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Owner of the Year: Army Corps of Engineers

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It was a tough decision but when the dust settled and the hammering stopped, the Army Corps of Engineers was selected 2010 Owner of the Year by editors and contributors of California Construction Magazine.

Owner of the Year: Army Corps of Engineers
Christine Altendorf
Christine Altendorf
Larry Smith
Larry Smith
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“Winning this award is great and not because the Corps is a winner, but because the taxpayer is the winner.” says Dr. Christine Altendorf, director of programs for South Pacific Division of Army Corps of Engineers.

USACE/South Pacific Division was chosen by the editorial staff and contributing editors of California Construction magazine based on criteria including maintaining a robust pipeline containing high-profile projects, facilitates new and innovative workforce development, exhibits a clear understanding of building processes and hires top talent and consistently uses quality subcontractors.

Altendorf, whose division oversees four districts covering all of California, Nevada and Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and half of Colorado, says the Corps’ size and experience allows it to construct projects of “huge diversity that bring safety, environmental and economic viability to our nation.”

“We also are able to provide facilities and structures that support our soldiers in both wartime and peace,” she says. And with nearly $1billion in projects this year, the Corps in California is also doing pretty well in “recession time.”

“Business is good,” says Larry Smith, area engineer for the Corps’ Sacramento district. “We are blessed with a robust program that continues to grow annually. Sometimes we wonder if it will continue this way, but it does. We are one agency hiring when others aren’t.”

Smith, whose district is currently working on more than 100 large civil and military projects, says the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well as the federal government’s dam safety improvement program, is keeping his district active.

He says ARRA has provided Sacramento district with between $250 and $300 million in stimulus funding for civil projects, and a joint federal dam project with the Bureau of Reclamation in Folsom is worth nearly $1 billion.

Known as the Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway Control Structure, the large, multi-phased improvement will continue over 12 years, says Smith. The project includes safety improvements, seismic upgrades on gates, embankments surrounding Folsom Lake, and a new floodwater bypass spillway.

“This is a very exciting project in the construction world,” says Altendorf. “People aren’t building new lakes or spillways, or dams anymore; that is kind of a thing of the past.”

The Corps is currently working Phase 3, a $400 million concrete control structure on Folsom Lake. Smith says the Corps will award the contract for this phase at the end of September, with construction commencing in early spring 2011.

Besides constructing large projects, the Corps is also concentrating on sustainable building practices, while giving back to the community with opportunities such as an intern program.

“The intern program has been huge,” says Altendorf. “We hire right out of college and the interns usually rotate for two years at various jobs throughout the Corps, from civil design to project management to operations to a construction office to military design, and this makes it exciting.

“They do four to six months stints at these various locations and they get an understanding of the corps and what we do, and then they can determine their niche.”

Smith, whose district hired about 60 students from the around the country this year, says the slow economy has actually helped the intern program.

“Many of these college graduates would have gone to work for private industry and not looked for public service if the job market wasn’t so tight,” he says. “This has allowed us to see talent that we would otherwise not have been able to recruit.”

As for green building, Altendorf says the Corps is focusing on military jobs, where it is a requirement that all army and air force projects be LEED silver, and on aspects such as sustainability for horizontal construction.

“Sustainable horizontal construction is a little different because it’s not as cut and dry as vertical construction,” she says. “We are doing horizontal levees and dredging for ports and trying to come up with designs to meet the sustainability challenge.” She says the Corps is getting creative with dredge materials that used to be dumped out to sea.

“What we are trying to do now is use dredged material for beaches or to develop wetlands,” she says. As an example of this she points to the Hamilton Wetlands Restoration Project, which used dredged material from the Port of Oakland.

The decade-long project, costing between $250 million and $300 million, is located on the site of an old WWII airfield, along the northwestern shore of San Pablo Bay, in the northern reach of the San Francisco Bay Estuary.

“Waste from one project can be a valuable resource for another project,” she says.

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