CHARLESTON, S.C. -- It’s 9 a.m. and Erica Fritz just sat down at her desk. She not only carries her morning cup-of-joe, but also a pair of tall boots. Fritz is a Project Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District Regulatory Division, and her day is just beginning.
Why the boots? Because for her, the day could end up one of two ways. Either at her desk reviewing permit applications and regulations, or out in the field taking data points and determining what truly is a wetland.
Years of congressional legislation and executive orders have given the USACE permitting authority over Waters of the United States, or WOTUS. Fritz’s job, among other things, is to determine what is and is not WOTUS and to evaluate potential impacts to those areas.
The role of the USACE Regulatory Division is to balance reasonable economic development with environmental protection, and Erica Fritz is the front-line of that mission. She routinely reviews and processes permit requests from developers looking to build on or around wetlands and other waters. The first step of the process is to try and avoid any possible impact to wetlands. If avoidance is not feasible, then the goal is to minimize and mitigate the impact development may have. These steps can be done through a variety of ways, but always have the same end goal, a balance of reasonable development with environmental protection.
What leads someone to a job like this? A background with a vast combination of years of public service and private sector experience, during which she has become quite knowledgeable in her field. Fritz studied biology in college and then went to graduate school where she continued to study wetland and forest ecology. Whether it was in college, at the U.S. Forest Service, or working for private sector companies, the environmental has always been at the forefront of her career.
“I am passionate about the environment,” Fritz said. “But my other strong passion in life is people and being able to help them. In this role, I get to kind of marry those two together. I enjoy when members of the public call and have questions, because one of the highlights of my day is helping them navigate the process and understand why we do what we do.”
Having a background in the private sector has proven very beneficial. Her knowledge of both sides of the permitting process has made working with applicants a whole lot easier.
“I am happy that I have that private experience because when I work with people from the private sector, I can tell them I truly understand their questions. I can say, ‘hey I have sat in your chair before, I get it, and here’s what’s going on,’ and I really enjoy that.”
Fritz prefers to come into the office, even in this virtual world we are working in today. At the office, she can be around her coworkers, ask questions and learn more. The first thing to do in the morning is to fire up the computer and check her email. She looks to see if there are any new projects assigned to her and if there are, looks them over and adds them to a tracking sheet. The regulatory division has an incredibly high workload with South Carolina being so low-lying and saturated compared to other states. In recent years, the state has also grown more popular and attracted more development, further adding to the intensity and workload.
“Everyone in regulatory has their own way of tracking their workload,” Fritz said. “I start by looking at my projects on my tracking sheet and their time-requirements. I learned we have some projects that can take 30 minutes to an hour to complete, so I try to get those done and out the door when I have time. It’s go -go- go all day and there’s not a moment there is not something to do, and I love that.”
When it comes to what life is like working day-to-day in regulatory, Fritz said it is a very collaborative and fast-paced atmosphere. With ever-changing rules and regulations, USACE regulatory project managers must adapt and remain flexible. This leads to many seasoned project managers helping those who are newer, like Fritz.
“I really enjoy that when we are all working hard and someone has a question, we all cluster up together. Even the more seasoned project managers get to help out, and we all get to listen in and learn together. It’s a collaborative approach and everyone is busy.”
When she’s not working, Fritz likes to spend her time enjoying the land she works so closely with. Whether its kayaking, running, or just taking a nice hike, she loves all-things outdoors.
While moving from the private to the public sector was certainly an adjustment for her, she could not be happier with the decision.
“It was a significant change to leave the private industry to come back to the public sector, but it was a great decision. I am a public servant at heart, and I truly love what I do.”
It may be hard work, but at the end of the day, when Erica Fritz leaves the office, she can’t help but look at the beautiful landscapes she works with every day. And as she does, it never fails to bring a smile to her face.