LOS ANGELES – The commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers toured several of the agency’s Los Angeles District projects during a recent three-day visit to the Golden State.
Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite visited Southern California July 8 to 10, touring the San Diego border construction project, before heading to the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Healthcare System Medical Center to visit the sites of the future mental health in-patient/out-patient facility and community living center, which are under construction.
LONG BEACH VA PROJECT
The Corps is constructing the five-phase, $317-million-project, which also includes a parking structure and combined heat-and-power generation plant, as well as demolition of the existing mental health and community living center buildings. Both buildings are being designed to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Silver certified.
Officials broke ground on the facilities in November 2018.
During a discussion before the site tour, Semonite received an update on the project, its timeline and potential challenges the team of engineers is facing. He reiterated how critical VA hospitals are for the nation and how important it is for the team to continue to communicate and remain transparent with each other and all partners about any concerns with the project.
“The only thing that is probably more important than building concrete and steel is building relationships, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Semonite told the team. “We all have the same goal – we want a quality hospital, built on time and within budget.”
Nationally, the Corps is supporting 16 VA projects, totaling an estimated $7 billion. The South Pacific Division oversees the largest VA design and construction program across the Corps. The Corps’ partnership with the VA in the region includes seven major projects and more than $2.5 billion in updating and upgrading facilities throughout the Pacific Southwest.
AERIAL TOUR OF PROJECTS
Following the general’s visit to the Corps’ VA Long Beach Healthcare System project, he and other senior leaders, including Brig. Gen. Kimberly Colloton, commander of the Corps’ South Pacific Division; John Moreno, regional business director, Senior Executive Service with the Corps’ South Pacific Division; and David Van Dorpe, deputy District engineer and chief of the Programs and Project Management Division with the Corps’ LA District, took an aerial tour in a UH-60M Blackhawk helicopter of the Westminster/Garden Grove watershed, Santa Ana River Mainstem project, Prado Dam, the Port of Long Beach and East San Pedro Bay in Long Beach.
WESTMINSTER/EAST GARDEN GROVE
The Corps’ Chicago and Los Angeles districts are both working with Orange County Public Works and other local communities on a project to modify features within the Westminster/East Garden Grove watershed.
The Westminster watershed is in western Orange County and includes the cities of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Stanton, Cypress, Garden Grove, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach.
The purpose of the study is to evaluate the flood risk within the watershed, which is attributable to drainage channels that collect more surface runoff than what they were originally designed to convey.
Features of the proposed project include modifying about 25 miles of drainage channels in the watershed to improve flow efficiency and capacity; widening an existing bottleneck at Warner Avenue and Huntington Harbour; replacing the tide gates on the East Garden Grove/Wintersburg Channel; and constructing a floodwall along a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway at Outer Bolsa Bay.
The Corps’ Chicago District is working on the study, while the LA District will be working on design and construction, once the study is completed.
SANTA ANA RIVER MAINSTEM PROJECT/PRADO DAM
The group also flew over the Corps’ Santa Ana River Mainstem project. The project is designed to provide flood protection to Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The proposed improvements to the system cover 75 miles, from the Santa Ana River, east of San Bernardino, to the Pacific Ocean, between Newport and Huntington beaches.
It is a collection of flood risk-reduction projects, which include environmental protection, restoration and water conservation measures. The need for the project arose in the late 1930s, when floods devastated towns, roads and railways along the river, and culminated in the construction of Prado Dam, just outside Corona.
As of 2017, about 95 percent of the reconstruction work in the lower river channel is complete, with remaining work consisting of bank protection improvements in the Yorba Linda area and strengthening of the bridge piers supporting the BNSF Railroad in Corona, which is under construction. The Prado Dam embankment has been raised and the outlet works have been reconstructed to convey discharges of up to 30,000 cubic feet per second. Estimated completion of the entire project is expected by 2021.
Additionally, the general was briefed on Prado Dam, a flood-risk management project and a major feature of the ongoing Santa Ana River Mainstem project. It was designed in the 1930s and constructed in 1941.
In May 2019, the Corps’ changed Prado Dam’s risk characterization from moderate urgency to high urgency, based on a recent assessment. Risk factors indicate the potential for poor spillway performance, which could have adverse impacts to the downstream population, if a significant flood event occurs.
The dam, which is typically dry, has never experienced a large enough storm to cause water to flow over the spillway; however, the Corps is being proactive by reassessing and modifying the spillway. Risk-reduction measures have been put in place until the modification of the spillway can be completed.
EAST SAN PEDRO BAY ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION STUDY
Before ending the aerial tour, the group flew over East San Pedro Bay and the Port of Long Beach. The Corps and the City of Long Beach are in a joint venture with the East San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration study. The purpose of the study is to evaluate opportunities for restoration of imperiled coastal habitat types, such as rocky reef, kelp and eelgrass beds within East San Pedro Bay. The deadline for the release of the Draft Integrated Feasibility Report for the study, which includes six draft alternatives, was delayed in late 2018 to allow for additional studies of the western breakwater modification.
While in the air, the tour also included a flyover of the Port of Long Beach, where the Corps maintains the federal navigation channel.
ENVIRONMENTAL ADVISORY BOARD
On July 10, the chief participated in the Chief of Engineers Environmental Advisory Board in Irvine, California, before heading back to Washington, D.C.
The advisory board was created for the chief of engineers to gain outside, expert and independent advice on environmental issues facing the Corps. The board is an opportunity to build partnerships, understanding and cooperation with the environmental community and the public, and meets biannually.