During the last two-plus years of the pandemic, face-to-face interaction has been limited for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District employees helping to ensure their health and safety, as well as that of the public. But this spring has seen reinvigorated relationship-building and community engagement through the return to larger in-person conferences, meetings, and outreach events for the district.
“The last two years have been a challenge for all of us while we had to limit meetings to virtual or small groups with face masks,” said David Romano, Buffalo District Deputy District Engineer. “We have been able to maintain our stakeholder and partner relationships based on years of trust developed primarily thru in-person engagements, and I’m very excited to get back to rebuilding and strengthening our connections which truly make a difference in our projects and the community.”
The Buffalo District is known for maintaining strong partnerships in its area of responsibility, which spans the lower watersheds of lakes Erie and Ontario and beyond. Providing networking and training opportunities is how the district makes sure its people continue to deliver world class engineering solutions to the Great Lakes region.
In the last two months alone, district employees have attended the annual Great Lakes Area of Concern Conference, the New York State (NYS) Wetlands Forum, the annual Compensatory Mitigation Banking Conference, and several Leadership Development Program events – many of which were cancelled, postponed, or held virtually over the last two years.
“The [Great Lakes Area of Concern] Conference has been postponed twice due to the pandemic,” said Bryan Hinterberger, Buffalo District Great Lakes Legacy Act and Focus Area 1 (Toxics and Areas of Concern) program manager. “So the occasion marked a major milestone on our march to normalcy. The conference is always an excellent opportunity for interagency collaboration and information exchange, and this one boasted the highest attendance to date.”
The NYS wetlands forum gave a wide variety of attendees, including four Buffalo District Regulators, a chance to share ideas and provide an outlet to gather knowledge without worrying about misinterpretations and items lost in remote meetings.
“Having an opportunity to attend the NYS Wetlands Forum in person was a great opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from the Corps and consultants from around the state!” said Michael Uitvlugt, Buffalo District Regulatory Biologist. “Most of the time we are able to complete our work remotely, but sometimes it just makes sense to have an opportunity to talk to consultants and other people with similar interests face-to-face and catch up or meet in person for the first time.”
Susan Baker attended the National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference in Boise, Idaho, an event that draws businesses, practitioners, government employees, nonprofits, and students together with the goal of connecting policy, practice, business, science, and people.
“While this event has been held both virtually and in-person the last two years, the benefits of in-person networking, open discussion, and learning far surpasses sitting behind a computer screen,” said Ms. Baker, Buffalo District Mitigation Bank Specialist. “It is not often that we have the chance to sit down and have open discussion amongst all sides of the compensatory mitigation world; it is both refreshing and rewarding.”
The Corps of Engineers Leadership Development Program (LDP) – which has three levels for employees to participate in – has again been able to hold in-person events, including hosting the LDP III class of Great Lakes & Ohio River Division 2022 participants at the Buffalo District office, and the district’s LDP I participants attending a local high school outreach event to educate students on Corps of Engineers’ career opportunities.
"After two long years, the benefits of a return to face-to-face LDPIII sessions were fully realized during the [Buffalo] session,” said David Frothingham, Buffalo District Leadership Development champion. “Interactive site visits and critically important team building were on the agenda during this productive week, focused on the challenges and successes of the Buffalo District program."
The LDP I participants attended Lancaster High School to give a presentation about their jobs at the Corps and facilitate a hands-on activity to teach the students about the lower Great Lakes watersheds, and how they relate to the Corps of Engineers and the students’ lives.
“The benefits of being able to attend in person for the LDP I participants and students were immeasurable,” said Lindsey Doktor, a member of the LDP I Steering Committee. “Getting to be in person and allowing the students to create and be actively involved in their learning is what will make the students internalize and retain the information about what a watershed is and its importance.”
The return to these events shows the ability to enhance Corps of Engineers’ employee’s knowledge and skill, build new relationships, maintain great partnerships, and inform the public of what the Corps of Engineers can do. Buffalo District understands that this is the key to continue providing excellent public service to the communities within our area of responsibility and the nation.