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Tackling Our Increasing Coast, Ocean, Ports and Rivers Challenges

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

President's Message: Summer 2016

By: Thomas H. Wakeman, COPRI President 2015-2016

Thomas Wakeman The civil engineering community that practices their profession off the coast, near-shore and at the water's edge is facing several significant challenges. Among the greatest of these challenges are two that are extremely important and dynamic in their character: future infrastructure financing and climate change.  

COPRI members have been tackling these areas and the changing requirements that they will bring in the future in their committee work and conferences.  Both topics were considered at the recent PORTS '16 Conference held in New Orleans.

Waterways Infrastructure

The coastal and inland waterways are essential to the United States' (U.S.) domestic and global economic competitiveness. Financing of our in-land waterway systems' O&M and capital improvement construction is an immediate need. The ASCE 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure gave Waterways a D- grade for the status of the inland waterways system (IWS).  

The IWS is a small but significant part of the national freight transportation network, particularly for bulk commodities, and needs to be managed for economic efficiency as part of the domestic transport system. Unfortunately the system is deteriorating because of inadequate funding for O&M activities while authorized capacity enhancements are also stalled awaiting Congressional appropriations.  

A recent report from the Transportation Research Board ( TRB, 2015, Report 315 ) described the IWS importance and suggests that alternative funding approaches (besides hoping for Congressional appropriations) be considered for both O&M and capital investments.  

Alternative Financing - Public Private Partnerships

Public private partnerships (P3) have been an important alternative for financing surface and waterway transportation projects in the U.S. since 1792. The COPRI Waterways Committee has established an Alternative Finance for Waterways Infrastructure (P3) Sub-committee , chaired by Dennis Lambert. 

The Sub-committee is coordinating with the COPRI Ports and Harbors Committee and is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to explore application of P3 financing of authorized IWS projects.

In the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRDA) , Congress authorized a 5-year pilot program for the USACE to identify and execute at least fifteen previously-authorized coastal harbor improvement, inland navigation enhancement, flood damage or storm damage reduction or improvement projects with private sector participation using a P3 project delivery mechanism.  

The Sub-committee has hosted several meetings with the USACE and other project stakeholders to identify potential projects and to discuss P3 delivery mechanisms.

Climate Change

Climate change will increasingly influence the Earth's environmental conditions. With 90% of international trade moving by sea, this factor alone warrants a high level of scrutiny on the potential impacts of climate change on the resilience of coastal facilities and vulnerability of the supply chain dependence on ocean freight facilities.

Design of port facilities must consider the emerging influence of sea level rise and extreme weather events on coastal structures and operations. Current design criteria have evolved over decades using codes and standards based primarily on stable environmental conditions where prediction of sea level and future storms was more certain than today.

Several seaports have had faced tests of their resilience during extreme weather events, like New Orleans' Katrina and New York's Super Storm Sandy, and have found the exist coastal protection insufficient to enable immediate recovery of operations.

Much of inland waterway and coastal infrastructure is designed for a 25 or even 50-year planning horizon. During the next 25 or 50 years, the climate could experience significant changes, particularly sea level rise. How do engineers incorporate adaptation and flexibility into their coastal designs to address this more dynamic environmental in the future? 

Codes and Standards

Mr. John Watt's, Director of Engineering, Shipyard Engineering LLC, is COPRI's representative to the ASCE's Codes and Standards Committee (CSC).  Because COPRI has so few standards, the COPRI Governing Board serves as COPRI's Standards Committee for purposes for CSC's rules.  

COPRI currently has one published standard, Seismic Design of Piers and Wharves (ASCE/COPRI 61-14) , and the Dry Docks standard under development.  As part of the review and update of 61-14, it is being expanded to include bulkheads.

COPRI is working with the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) and the ASCE 7 Tsunami Chapter Sub-committee to organize a press event at the ASCE Convention in Portland in September. It will be highlighting the imminent publication of ASCE 7, the combined investment by SEI and COPRI producing the tsunami inundation maps, and the next steps for impacted communities in implementing the new provisions. 

These are important challenges for COPRI to consider and to work on for future engineering practice. As other issues arise, please consider establishing sub-committees or other ad hoc working groups within the COPRI committee structure to investigate new ways to protect and enhancing our shores, inland waterways, and marine facilities.

The Governing Board is always open to COPRI members' ideas and suggestions for improving our engineering practice. Email us at to share your suggestions or get involved on a COPRI Committee.

Pictured above: Thomas H. Wakeman, III, Eng.Sc.D., Dist.D.NE, Dist.D.PE, F.ASCE