Little Rock District Inducts New Gallery Member

By: Laurie Driver

During most of his 29 years with the Army Corps of Engineers, PJ Spaul was the voice and face of Little Rock District. Sure, he crafted news releases, speeches and public affairs plans. He helped at public events, and even launched an employee newspaper. Yet most people remember him explaining Corps activities in the news media.

Retiree PJ Spaul is presented a plaque by Craig Pierce, Little Rock District’s deputy district engineer for project management inducting him into the district’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees June 2018.
Retiree PJ Spaul is presented a plaque by Craig Pierce, Little Rock District’s deputy district engineer for project management inducting him into the district’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees June 2018.

During his career, which spanned from 1983 until his retirement in 2012, he responded to reporters’ questions more than 5,000 times.  However, in June 2018 Spaul wasn’t the spokesman on the news, he was in the news when he was inducted into Little Rock District’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees.

“I personally know many of the members of the gallery and know what great work they did,” Spaul said after being presented the award at the District’s Engineer Day.  “To be added to this group of employees is just so humbling.”

Spaul began his career with the Little Rock District in December 1983 as a public affairs specialist.  He became the district’s public affairs officer in 2007 where he led his team who used a variety of public information tools to help save lives and protect property during the many floods and natural disasters experienced throughout the district.  Through media queries, public gatherings, social media, and Internet efforts, he and his team developed and disseminated timely, essential information through multiple channels to ensure the public had news it needed.

“PJ was always so cool under fire,” said Mike Biggs, chief of the Hydraulic and Hydrology Branch. “He taught me lessons that I still pass along to my employees.  For example, while dealing with confrontational media personnel, PJ would say, ‘don’t get into arguments with people who buy ink by the barrel.’  PJ just had a talent for communicating with people in tough situations.”

Spaul’s job covered all of the district’s varied missions.

In the 1980s, while President Reagan was engaged in arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, he was the district’s spokesman to national and world media during dismantlement of 17 Inter-continental ballistic missile silos in Arkansas. Spaul also provided public affairs responses in Arkansas and Missouri during the floods of 1986, 1990, 2008 and 2011; three barge accidents at Corps dams; and multiple tornado recovery efforts in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“PJ was focused on educating our elected officials, stakeholders and the general public,” said Biggs.  “He would remind me that we have honorable missions that are authorized by Congress, but because our missions are so complex, not everyone would understand or agree with how we do our jobs.”

Beginning in the 1980’s, Spaul communicated risk management issues for dam safety rehabilitation projects at Wilbur D. Mills, Beaver, and Table Rock dams, and most recently, during the Clearwater Dam Major Rehabilitation.  He also served as an instructor of risk communications for the Corps’ Learning Center Dam Safety Course.

Spaul was also the voice and face of Little Rock District for the construction of Montgomery Point Lock & Dam on the White River. From its inception in the 1980’s to its dedication in 2004, he managed news coverage and public relations for what was the Corps’ largest civil works construction project underway at the time.

Spaul also deployed outside of the Little Rock District in support of the Corps’ emergency response missions.

PJ Spaul (right) during a national press conference in Little Rock, Ark., during the flood of 1990 on the Arkansas River. Also at the press conference was (left) Col. Charles McCloskey, Little Rock District’s commander and (center) Brig. Gen. Robert C. Lee, commander of the Southwestern Division.
PJ Spaul (right) during a national press conference in Little Rock, Ark., during the flood of 1990 on the Arkansas River. Also at the press conference was (left) Col. Charles McCloskey, Little Rock District’s commander and (center) Brig. Gen. Robert C. Lee, commander of the Southwestern Division.

He went to New Orleans in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina during the unwatering of the city. Spaul worked long hours to provide vital information to storm victims, local officials, and the media. His knowledge, skills, and abilities were used to educate the public with facts that helped people understand why the levees failed and what the Corps was doing for them and their city.

During the 2008 floods in Arkansas and Southern Missouri, Spaul developed innovative responses to the media and the public that helped communicate complicated hydrologic and hydraulic information.  The 2008 flood was a public relations challenge because it was not the result of a single storm, instead it was from the cumulative effects of a series of repeated storm systems spread over months, each storm event creating ever-changing scenarios.  For his work during this flood event, Spaul was awarded the 2008 Michael C. Robinson Practitioner of the Year Award from USACE Chief of Engineers.

In 2011 austere budgets threatened to force mission adjustments that included closing some Little Rock District park facilities.  Spaul and his public affairs team, helped the district gain public understanding and acceptance through a community relations program with elected officials, partners, stakeholders and the public.

“Because of PJ and the PAO team’s attention to detail, the district was successful in generating offers from local governments and volunteer groups to take on maintenance responsibilities so that many of the facilities slated for closure could remain open,” said Titus Hardiman, chief of the Natural Resources Management Branch.

Their efforts were lauded by the Corps’ chain of command because other districts were seeking appropriate ways to reduce their levels of service as well.  The vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development said it was a model for others in the Corps.  For this outstanding effort, Spaul and his team were awarded the Corps’ 2011 Locke L. Mouton Award in the Community Relations category.

Then again in the spring of 2011, the Little Rock District experienced a historic flood event.  The flooding affected all of Little Rock District’s multi-purpose lakes and navigational projects (25 dams, 308 miles of navigation channel, 178 public parks, seven hydroelectric plants and more). Communities, homes, businesses and farmland along the rivers and many tributaries were flooded, especially the Arkansas, White, and Black rivers.

In all, the flooding reached record levels in nine of the district’s 12 multi-purpose lakes. Six of the lakes exceeded their maximum capacity, and spillway releases were necessary more than once to prevent the dams from overtopping.  Before the water stopped rising, 60 percent of the district’s park facilities were flooded, and many remained flooded through the recreation season.

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System also experienced unusually high flows.  The Arkansas River normally flows at 20,000 to 40,000 cubic feet per second, but during the worst of the flooding, river flows exceeded 320,000 cfs, requiring small craft advisories that remained in place through the spring and summer months.

Levees along the White, Black and Little Red rivers experienced water levels that had not been seen since 1982.  Some aging levees along the rivers were unable to hold back the onslaught. The Black River reached its second highest level in more than 90 years at Pocahontas, Ark.

Spaul again devised transparent messages to educate the public concerning safety, water levels, water releases, and how the Corps greatly mitigated the damage to people and property.

PJ Spaul is interview by a KTHV reporter in Little Rock, Ark., during the first low water inspection of the Arkansas River by the Mississippi River Commission in 2010.
PJ Spaul is interview by a KTHV reporter in Little Rock, Ark., during the first low water inspection of the Arkansas River by the Mississippi River Commission in 2010.

During his career, Spaul earned an excellent reputation with his supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates.  He remained calm under pressure and was highly sought after as a principal advisor to the command group, senior staff, and field offices on fast-breaking communication issues.

“PJ’s level headed approach to understanding the Corps’ many missions and ability to communicate helped the Little Rock District build healthy working relationships with our stakeholders,” Biggs said.

Spaul is also a retired Army Reservist who spent 23 years as a Soldier in Active, Reserve and National Guard components.  He has served as an Infantryman, Army Journalist, Broadcast Journalist and Senior Instructor.  He has served as editor of two Army newspapers and a weekly university newspaper.  He has been a news reporter and a state bureau chief for the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and has completed graduate work at the University of South Carolina.  He is a graduate of the Army Advanced Public Affairs Officers Course, the Defense Information School Broadcast Journalism Course and the DINFOS Senior Public Affairs Course.

He is married to the former Eva Mosley.  The couple has two grown children, six grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

Spaul is the 65th member of Little Rock District’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees, all of whom were recognized for their significant contributions during their tenures with the district.

 

STURGIS vessel en route to Brownsville for final shipbreaking and recycling

By Chris Gardner, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District

The STURGIS, which was the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, is towed from the Galveston shipping channel into open water Tuesday morning September 25, 2018 as it heads toward Brownsville, Texas for final shipbreaking and recycling. The vessel is being towed from Galveston where it has undergone radiological decommissioning that included the safe removal of all components of its deactivated nuclear reactor and all associated radioactive waste that was formerly onboard. (U.S. Army photo by Becca Nappi)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ STURGIS vessel departed for the Port of Brownsville on her final journey.  In two to three days, she will arrive at the International Shipbreaking Limited facility where she will be dismantled for recycling. The vessel is being towed from Galveston where it has undergone radiological decommissioning that included the safe removal of all components of the deactivated nuclear reactor and all associated radioactive waste that was formerly onboard the STURGIS.

The STURGIS operating in the Panama Canal Zone. The STURGIS, a former World War II Liberty Ship, was converted into the first floating nuclear power plant in the 1960s. Before being shutdown in 1976, the STURGIS’ nuclear reactor, MH-1A, was used to generate electricity for military and civilian use in the Panama Canal.

The STURGIS was the world’s first floating nuclear power plant.  She was converted from a World War II Liberty Ship in the 1960s to a mobile nuclear plant. Over the past three years in Galveston, Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and it prime contractor, APTIM Federal Services, has been implementing the challenging and complex efforts to decommission the MH-1A — the deactivated nuclear reactor that was onboard the STURGIS vessel.

The Reactor Pressure Vessel aboard the STURGIS, the Army’s retired floating nuclear power plant recently decommissioned, is carefully lifted in order to be placed in the specially designed shielded shipping container to its left at the end of May 2017. Once in the container, it was then loaded onto a transport vehicle to be delivered to the Waste Control Specialists disposal facility, in Andrews County, Texas for disposal. With the removal of the STURGIS’ Reactor Pressure Vessel, approximately 98 percent of the radioactivity from the STURGIS and a total of 850,000 pounds of radioactive waste had been safely removed and disposed of at that time.

As part of that process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers safely removed and shipped more than 1.5 million pounds of radioactive waste and recycled more than 600,000 pounds of lead. Throughout the project, continuous environmental monitoring was performed and the results confirmed there was no evidence of radioactive material, lead or increased radiation exposure from the STURGIS project during its time in the Port of Galveston.

With the successful removal of all radioactive waste from the STURGIS and extensive radiological surveys that confirmed all radioactive waste had been removed, the STURGIS was cleared to be towed to Brownsville for traditional shipbreaking.

The STURGIS is towed from the Galveston shipping channel into open water Tuesday morning September 25, 2018 as it heads toward Brownsville, Texas for final shipbreaking and recycling. Over the past three years in Galveston, Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been implementing the challenging and complex efforts to decommission the MH-1A — the deactivated nuclear reactor that was onboard the STURGIS vessel. (U.S. Army photo by Becca Nappi)

“We’re extremely proud of our safety record for the STURGIS decommissioning work in Galveston,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Brenda Barber. “Now that we’ve confirmed that all of the radiological contamination has been safely removed, the last phase of the STURGIS project will be towing the vessel to Brownsville where she will undergo final shipbreaking and recycling.”

Once in the Port of Brownsville, the STURGIS will undergo additional radiological surveys as part of ISL’s standard operating procedures.

“In addition to the rigorous testing and retesting performed by the Corps of Engineers verifying that no radioactive materials remain on the STURGIS, ISL officials will conduct another independent survey to confirm that the vessel is clean,” said Eduardo A. Campirano, Port Director and CEO of the Port of Brownsville. “We are confident the STURGIS is safe and poses no harm to the facilities of the port and the surrounding areas, otherwise it would not be allowed here.”

Once in the Port of Brownsville, the shipbreaking is expected to be completed in early 2019.  Based on current estimates, approximately 5,500 tons of steel and other assorted metals from the ship will be recycled.

APTIM Federal Services and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team will continue to oversee the completion of the overall project in Brownsville.

STURGIS History/Background: The STURGIS has had a unique life since first being built in the 1940’s as a World War II Liberty Ship, the SS Charles H. Cugle. After serving in World War II, the ship was converted into the world’s first floating nuclear plant in the 1960’s, housing the MH-1A nuclear reactor.

Before being shut down in 1976, the STURGIS’ nuclear reactor was used to generate electricity for military and civilian use in the Panama Canal.

The reactor was de-fueled, decontaminated for long-term storage, and sealed before being towed to the James River Reserve Fleet at Joint Base Langley Eustis, Virginia; where it was stored and maintained since 1978, except for times of periodic dry dock maintenance.

In 2012, its formal decommissioning effort began as part of a broader effort to decommission the Army’s retired nuclear reactors through the Army Deactivated Nuclear Power Plant Program.

After award of the decommissioning project contract, the STURGIS was ultimately towed 1,750 miles from Virginia to Galveston, Texas in April 2015 for its final decommissioning. That decommissioning effort was completed this summer with the safe removal of all components of the deactivated nuclear reactor and associated radioactive waste that was formerly aboard the STURGIS and the vessel is being towed to Brownsville, Texas for final traditional shipbreaking.