For Jeffrey Herzog, being a project manager for the Civil Works Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) fits his military training and skill set.
“I’m not a professional engineer … but I know how to communicate with different groups of people so that we can all work together toward a common goal of completing a study and constructing a project,” he said.
Herzog’s talents will be tested, as he serves as manager of the Ala Wai Flood Risk Management Project.
The contentious project is intended to protect Waikiki from a once-in-a-century storm that could drive massive quantities of water down the watershed, overwhelm the canal and flood the multibillion-dollar engine of Hawaii’s economy. But some local residents object to the possible solution: a wall along the canal and large concrete detention basins near streams by their homes. A lawsuit filed Wednesday challenges state and city participation in the project, particularly the commitment of $125 million in local funds to the $345 million project without further environmental review.
Herzog has been a Civil Works projects manager for the past four years, and takes pride in the Corps’ legacy in Hawaii, which dates back to 1905 and construction of the Makapuu Lighthouse. The Corps doesn’t just build things, he noted. It helps communities, such as those in the Pacific islands, develop resiliency through nonstructural engineering solutions. It also engages in ecosystem restoration efforts, including restoring habitat for endangered Hawaiian birds in Kailua’s Kawainui Marsh.
“We’re more than just a construction firm, we’re more than just a federal entity,” Herzog said. “We have a lot of opportunities and resources available to work with the community through education and outreach.”
That includes educating the public about the importance of keeping streams free of debris so small-scale flooding doesn’t turn into large-scale damage, he said.
Herzog, now a civilian, grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and joined the Army right out of high school, serving for 17 years. He helped plan missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was stationed with the 25th Infantry Division here. Working with local communities, he said, “really gave me a sense of purpose” that translates to his current job, he said.
“When I go home in the evenings, it’s a sense of job satisfaction knowing that I’m serving the people of the community and not just serving myself in some blank mission.”
He and his wife live in Mililani with their five children.
Question: What is the mission of USACE Civil Works Branch in Hawaii?
Answer: The mission of Honolulu District Civil Works is to work with community and state leaders on engineering solutions to some of the toughest water-resource concerns like navigation, coastal storm damage, flooding, ecosystem restoration and climate change. Our area of responsibility includes Hawaii, Guam, CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), as well as partnership agreements throughout Oceania and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Q: Besides the Ala Wai project, what are you working on currently?
A: I, along with a team of highly skilled professionals, are finalizing flood risk studies to protect the communities of Laie, Hilo and Kona, as well as beach restoration in Haleiwa Beach Park. I also am the project manager for three emergency construction repairs stemming from events in 2018. Hahaione Valley Flood Control Way was heavily damaged in the April 2018 rain bomb, and we just awarded the contract to repair it after evaluating and developing the scope of repairs. Hurricane Lane (in August 2018) damaged two flood control projects in Hilo, which we are getting ready to advertise and award repair contracts. All three of those projects performed as designed, preventing millions in damages to the counties and the state. Now they will be repaired at nearly 100% federal cost.
Q: What about the restoration project at Kawainui Marsh?
A: Kawainui Marsh is adjacent to and affected by the Kawainui Marsh Flood Control Project, which is a Corps-authorized and -constructed facility that was completed in 1966, and modified in 1997. The purpose of the project is to restore habitat suitable for endangered Hawaiian waterfowl: ae‘o (stilt), ‘alae ‘ula (moorhen), ‘alae ke‘oke‘o (coot) and koloa maoli (duck). The project is located in the upper reaches of the marsh, encompassing nearly 40 acres. The project features include 11 terraced shallow ponds, with an earthen berm and water supply system that includes solar-powered well pumps and water level control structures.
Q: What is the current status of the Ala Wai flood control plan?
A: The city and state are still working out details of how they can partner with the Corps of Engineers. The Corps does not work unilaterally on Civil Works projects; we require a partnership with a non-federal entity. While the city and state are working on their path forward, the Honolulu District is currently coordinating with its Washington-level leadership on how to proceed with identified needs for modification based on updated information.
Q: Are there alternatives to building large detention basins in the upper watershed, or a four-foot wall along the Ala Wai Canal?
A: It would be pre-decisional and costly to speculate on alternatives without having approval to do so from national leadership, and more updated data about the soils and geology of the watershed. Based on updated modeling, we have a better understanding of how the water will move during a large storm event. A better understanding means we can now begin to formulate more detailed alternatives and work with the community and city to design an acceptable project. The federal environ- mental impact statement stated that the Corps would utilize its environmental operating principles to incorporate as many green and natural solutions as feasible. That is still the District’s intent moving forward.
With sea-level rise and the amount of water coming down that canal, there will a requirement for some sort of flood barrier along the canal. We think that on the makai side it will eventually look like some sort of wall — we don’t know what that wall will look like — and then on the mauka side, we think that in some areas it’s going to be an earthen berm potentially with a path on top of it. In other areas, it must just be a narrow earthen berm and in other areas it might just need to be a low-profile wall.
I can’t tell you with as much certainty (about detention basins), because there are so many different techniques. The idea is, the more you slow down in the upper, the less you have to do in the lower, as far as large structures. So there will be some sort of detention basins in the upper watershed; we just don’t know to what size and to what extent. And where we can use green space and parks to create these multipurpose areas, and where we need to detain directly in the stream, is still to be determined.
I can guarantee what it looks like right now is not what will be recommended for construction.
Q: What do you mean by multipurpose areas and green, natural solutions?
A: A good example is the Hilo Bay soccer field. We have the Alenaio flood control project that drains into that. Those soccer fields, during a hurricane or heavy storm, serve as a dissipation pond: 99% of the time it’s a soccer field, but then that 1% of the time we know it’s going to flood. But because it floods there, it’s not going to flood downtown Hilo. So instead of trying to force the water to go in a certain location, if we know the water’s going to go there, let’s build resilience in the community around that feature.
Q: If the city and state can’t agree on local funding for the Ala Wai project, what happens to the project’s $220 million in federal funds?
A: That is a decision that is made by Washington-level leadership. … The project was authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2018; it would take another act of Congress to rescind that authorization. … If for some reason Washington-level leadership pulls the funding or if the state and city request to not move forward at this time, it would be put back on the list of projects for future funding.
Q: How is the Corps addressing climate change?
A: It is not just climate change, it is a combination of climate change, aging infrastructure, undersized infrastructure, and the amount of development/impervious surfaces. There is a lot more … understanding that wasn’t available 20 years ago. We as a society are shifting the way we look at development and infrastructure repair. The Corps of Engineers is included in that shift. We are looking at innovative, environmentally friendly, green, natural engineering solutions.