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Spotlight on USACE Galveston District’s Robert Thompson

GALVESTON, Texas (Oct. 1, 2015) – Survey Party Chief Robert Thompson splits his work day between the shore and sea, planning, conducting and coordinating land and hydrographic surveys to determine the condition of major navigation channels and placement areas the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District maintains.

“I maintain the tide staffs along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Colorado and San Bernard rivers as well as recover and verify geodetic control and tidal benchmarks for use in converting data to Mean Lower Low Water datum for future dredging projects,” said Thompson.

In layman’s terms, he collects critical tidal information that can be plotted graphically to give engineers a better idea of changes in water elevations over time and guide them in their decisions when using federally-authorized disposal site for dredged material and developing dredging contract specifications.

“I supply this data to our engineers, who use it primarily in the calculation of placement areas and dredging volumes,” said Thompson. “Each year, the district dredges approximately 30 to 40 million cubic yards of material from Texas channels to fulfill its mission of keeping waterways open for navigation and commerce.”

As part of the dredging process, the material collected is placed in approved disposal sites or used for other environmentally-acceptable purposes to benefit local communities and improve eroded coastlines through marsh restoration, beach nourishment and other beneficial uses when possible. Annually, the USACE Galveston District uses 3-4 million cubic yards of dredged material to benefit Texas coastal ecosystems.

“I like the mix of office work and field work,” said Thompson. “Recovering geodetic control monuments and analyzing subsidence or supposed changes in their vertical positions, as well as examining how the new datums will tie together with the work we are doing to be compliant with the Comprehensive Evaluation of Project Datums ensures there is never a dull moment on the job.”
Geodetic control points are established as permanent physical monuments placed in the ground and precisely marked, located and documented. The Corps implements consistent methodologies using state-of-the-art technology to ensure the most accurate information is used in coordination with its navigation projects.

Thompson explains that with sea level change and high historical rates of subsidence along the Texas coast, providing accurate survey data will provide a consistent reference to the changing water surface, information that is crucial to the Corps’ operations and maintenance program along the Texas coast.

Established in 1880 as the first engineer district in Texas to oversee river and harbor improvements, the district has expanded its mission to provide vital public engineering services that strengthen the nation’s security, energize the economy and maintain federal navigation channels for four of the top 11 ranked ports in the United States with respect to tonnage.
“Our work as surveyors directly supports national, regional and local waterborne commerce operations and ensures safe and reliable channel availability of more than 1,000 miles of channels along the Texas coast,” said Thompson. “I believe my experience contributes to improving the quality of survey work we produce here at the district.”

A native of Rolla, Missouri. Thompson began his surveying career in 1969 and went on to become a licensed professional surveyor. When not at work, he enjoys quality time with his family.

Col. Richard Pannell

Coastal Custodians,

Wow, fiscal year 2015 was an amazing year for the Galveston District! The list of accomplishments exceeded my expectations and I could not be more proud of you. Together with our partners, the district carried more than its fair share of the nation’s work load and delivered vital projects, programs and services to the American public. Thank you for your continued efforts to be responsive to our customers and meet our commitments. Not only did you meet commitments, but you also dramatically strengthened key partnerships and increased trust with our stakeholders. The positive reputation of the district continues to grow and the importance of your work is recognized at the national level.

At the town hall, I had the opportunity to highlight many of your accomplishments and provide my assessment of the district’s outlook for FY16 and beyond. What I was most pleased with for FY15 was your ability to deliver on the priorities we set a year ago. Awarding the long overdue Port Arthur Resident Office contract to replace a facility destroyed by Hurricane Ike seven years ago was one of these priorities. Similarly, awarding the Addicks and Barker Dam Safety megaproject was on the top of our priority project list for FY15.

Another example of priorities is the study effort on the coastal Texas and Houston Ship Channel projects. These two nationally significant studies demonstrate the commitment by USACE to solve the nation’s toughest engineering problems. While the studies themselves require a combined $30 million, the construction effort will be on the scale of billions of dollars. The potential benefits are even greater and these projects serve as cornerstones of our Texas coast strategy.

Also in support of our coastal Texas strategy is maintaining our existing infrastructure and supporting non-federal investment. The efforts to maintain our navigation and flood risk management infrastructure were delivered flawlessly with over $130 million executed this past year. Our outgrants, contributed funds, permits and other services for stakeholders, sponsors and the general public continue to demonstrate our relevance to coastal Texas by supporting $100’s of billions in non-federal investment and public-private partnerships.

The outlook for next year could not be more positive. As we finalize our priorities for FY16, I’m eager to hear your feedback. A couple of focus efforts will be on our people and on managing our district knowledge. These two priorities are foundational to delivering on all our other focus areas. In FY16 we will continue to work on refining our Texas coast strategy, strengthening partnerships, streamlining our processes, reducing risks and responding to emergencies. It really takes all of us working together to achieve these lofty goals. Your commitment to the district’s mission is the #1 enabler of our success. Thank you for your support.

Col. Rich Pannell
District Commander, USACE Galveston

The official U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division publication