Mark Messersmith, biologist, has been with the Charleston District’s planning and environmental branch for seven years, but until the beginning of the feasibility phase of the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project, he had never worked on any project that was so challenging and complex.
Messersmith serves as the environmental lead for the Post 45 team, which consists of more than 40 people, both within the Charleston District and throughout the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ South Atlantic Division. In the last year, the team has worked extremely hard to get from the Draft Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement to the Final Report. After a public meeting was held to receive comments on the Draft Report in October 2014, Messersmith and the team had a lot to dive into.
“We spent the time between the draft and final reports collecting comments that had to be addressed with information that wasn’t in the draft,” said Messersmith. “Things like air quality, shoreline erosion, environmental justice, mitigation planning and environmental monitoring needed more information to document our compliance with laws and regulations.”
The majority of Messersmith’s responsibility was compiling all the data and writing much of the Final Report. With Post 45 set to be the first project completed from start to finish under the Corps’ new streamlined planning process, an emphasis was made to shorten the reports. This meant that the team had to focus on the most-critical aspects of the project, excluding certain components from the report, even though they had been studied. After receiving comments from people wanting to see the excluded components, Messersmith revised the documents to produce the Final Report.
“The biggest challenge with the Final Report was providing resource agencies the information they needed to make their decisions while working inside the guidance and policies of the Corps’ new planning process,” said Messersmith. “We have to maintain trust and transparency and need to make sure everyone knows that we’ve done what we can within the boundaries set for us.”
While completing the Final Report, Messersmith had to understand the agencies’ and public’s concerns and address them as best as possible while still finding ways to streamline the document. The result was a document that was approximately 40 pages longer than the draft and provided more-detailed information on the areas of concern, including the mitigation plan.
“We’ll be very hands-on with the mitigation monitoring during the preconstruction engineering and design phase,” said Messersmith. “We’ve worked a lot with our federal agency partners to refine the monitoring plan to ensure all the requirements are met.”
With the start of the PED phase looming, Messersmith and the Post 45 team still have studies on ship simulation, coastal modeling and beneficial use of dredged material. The beneficial use analysis will look at ways to use the material dredged from the bottom of Charleston Harbor in a way that is environmentally-friendly instead of just placing it in a traditional disposal area. This includes the creation of eight 33-acre reefs that will be constructed using the limestone rock that will be dredged from the harbor floor, among other ideas.
At the end of the project, most people will only see the final product of a harbor that is 52 feet deep, but without people like Messersmith diving into the details, we wouldn’t get that far.