LOS ANGELES — The incoming U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District commander took time out to meet with the LA District’s team and partners April 3-7 as he toured project sites throughout Southern California to learn about the district’s diverse and extensive mission set.
Col. Andrew Baker, who is scheduled to assume the role of district commander in July, was accompanied by LA District Commander Col. Julie Balten and Deputy District Engineer Justin Gay during his trip, which included site visits to the Port of Long Beach, Department of Veterans Affairs Long Beach Health Care System medical complex, Murrieta Creek, Prado and Whittier Narrows dams, and various sites along the LA River.
Baker began April 3 at the Port of Long Beach, where he was briefed by LA District Coastal Projects Manager Doland Cheung, Navigation Section Chief Jim Fields, Navigation and Coastal Branch Chief Steve Dwyer and ecologist Larry Smith for an overview of the partnership between the port and the Corps. Port Executive Director Mario Cordero and senior port officers hosted the meeting and then boarded a boat to tour sections to be dredged, widened and deepened by the LA District for the safety of deep-draft vessels. The Port of Long Beach is a major destination of container and liquid bulk ships.
Next, Baker got an inside look at the construction of the new 181,000-square-foot Community Living Center and separate, nearly complete 80,000-plus-square-foot mental health in-patient and out-patient facilities at the VA Long Beach Medical Center. The mega project broke ground on Veterans Day in 2018 and is projected to be complete in 2024. It was the Corps’ first major VA construction project to break ground in the region.
After meeting with contractors, Corps’ engineers and project managers, Baker toured all the project’s sites, asking questions and inspecting rooms. Part of the tour led to a literal light at the end of a dark and incomplete, long pedestrian tunnel that, when completed, will link the new facilities. Speaking as a veteran future district commander, Baker told the group members he appreciated their work and how the VA’s new and modern medical buildings and living center will benefit other veterans.
“I just can’t wait to get started,” Baker said.
On April 6, Balten and Baker met with Santa Ana River Mainstem Project Manager Derek Walker and Murrieta Creek Project Manager Damien Lariviere during a series of stops in Temecula to learn about recent and upcoming improvements to Murrieta Creek, a tributary of the Santa Margarita River mainstem. The work there is a multi-purpose, flood-risk management ecosystem restoration and recreation project designed to provide urban flood protection to the communities of Murrieta and Temecula in Riverside County.
Later that day, Baker got a close-up look at some of the missions that comprise the Santa Ana River Mainstem Project — including the Prado Dam and Spillway in Corona — while meeting with more key team members, including Mega Projects Division Deputy Chief Leanne Van Tuyl and Operations Division Project Manager Phil Serpa.
Prado Dam, which reduces flood risk to more than 1.3 million people working in four counties and more than $80 billion in property, is undergoing modifications to provide additional capacity for storage of floodwaters and sediment by enlarging the existing Prado Dam and reservoir, which included raising the main dam embankment, replacing the outlet works, constructing other embankments, also known as dikes, and improving the downstream channel. Modification of the spillway is the last feature of the project to be constructed, which includes raising the spillway by 20 feet.
Baker’s final series of stops were at sites throughout the Los Angeles County Drainage Area System, including Whittier Narrows Dam, where he learned about the ongoing dam safety modification project and also met with team members, including Mega Projects Division Project Manager George Sunny, Operations Division Chief Mark Cohen, Operations and Maintenance Division Program Manager Malia Pearson and Resident Engineer Jose Rocha.
The Los Angeles County Drainage Area, or LACDA, system includes about 45 miles of flood levees and channels, under the responsibility of the Corps to operate and maintain, and a larger federal project with the nonfederal partner, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, consisting of 517 miles of channels and levees, 26 debris basins and five flood-risk-management dams.
Baker also learned about the LA River Ecosystem Restoration Project from LA Metro Project Branch Chief Priyanka Wadhawan and Lead Civil Engineer Robert Kwan from a key vantage point at Elysian Park near downtown LA. The $1.9-billion LA River Ecosystem Restoration Project aims to restore 11 miles of the LA River, from Griffith Park to downtown LA, and is one of three public-private partnerships, or P3, pilot projects in the Corps. 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.
Operations and Maintenance Division team members Trevor Snyder, project manager, and Kelly Howard, maintenance management specialist, briefed Baker about operations in and along the LA River, including flood control, debris removal, environmental restoration and work with partner agencies – rounding out his tour.
Balten said the visit was “a fantastic opportunity” for Baker not only to meet the LA District team, but also to give him the opportunity to learn about the district’s programs and projects.
“It’s been great to give him a feel for what command is going to entail, and the projects and the fantastic people we have working on these teams and for the district, as well as the challenges and complexities that come with these projects,” Balten said. “It’s also a great way to show him we are doing really incredible work that’s challenging and meaningful for the communities in which we live and serve.”
Baker said he appreciated not only seeing the projects first-hand, but also the hospitality from the LA District team members during his visit.
“I really feel welcome,” Baker said. “The scope of work and the scale are really impressive. It’s clear that it’s a great team, and I’m looking forward to joining.”